Partisanship Gone Haywire
Jude Wanniski
August 16, 1994


Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's threat to keep the Senate in session 'round the clock until it votes out a health bill is a desperate roll of the dice that will come up snake eyes. It is meant to prove to the American people that the Republicans are to blame for blocking health care legislation. Republicans actually seem to welcome the idea and are suiting up for filibuster, while Senate Democrats regard a 24-hour spotlight with fear and loathing. Meanwhile, the White House is breaking arms in the House, trying to switch eight Democratic votes to back the crime bill, an incredibly difficult goal given the enormous attention given to the President's stunning defeat last Friday. Every Democratic congressman who switches from nay to aye just to save Bill and Hillary is inviting the wrath of his constituents. Meanwhile, the dozen Republicans who voted for the crime bill are under tremendous pressure at home to defect from procedural support of the Clintons. The President has no room for maneuver by shifting provisions of the crime bill to satisfy one group or another, because that would require a new Senate-House conference, which Senate Democrats are also loath to see. It would not surprise me at all to see a bipartisan agreement among the congressional leaders to scrap the legislative agenda with a promise from the Republicans to come back next year and start anew. The Democratic backbenchers would be thrilled to get out of this torture chamber, go home, and promise the voters to return to work in '95 in a bipartisan mood. Partisanship in the past has often worked to the advantage of Democrats, but now it has gone haywire on them. All of Washington is chalking up the disastrous experience to the fact that Arkansas is a one-party state and the Clintons have no other political experience.

These political convulsions are being observed with relative disinterest by the financial markets, which have been discounting the Clinton agenda all along. If the Clinton-Mitchell-Gephardt mandates were to actually pass into law, we would see a slide in the value of financial assets. There is now less than zero chance of this happening, though, so we will not see any Wall Street boom when these bills are not enacted. For the financial markets to get into a sustained rally requires more than Clinton setbacks. For that, GOP gains in November would have to be translated into tax reform legislation, which may not be possible in the last two Clinton years. Otherwise, only the Federal Reserve can provide the impetus for a renewed bull market. Is today's half-point rise in the Fed funds rate and discount rate the last of these crude maneuvers to restore confidence in the bond market? This is the way the Fed presented it, hence the cheering on Wall Street, at least before speculation of even higher rates begins again.

There are bipartisan health-care bills taking shape this week in the House and Senate, but these are so far from the demands of the most partisan wings of both parties that they are being presented mainly to enable moderates of both parties to have some legislation they can say they supported. In the Senate, such legislation is being cosponsored by Democratic Senators Sam Nunn and David Boren and Republicans Pete Domenici and Robert Bennett -- with Bennett's presence seen as evidence that Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole is behind this move for tactical reasons. The measure, with a parallel effort in the House, would not attract enough votes to pass, but would provide the starting point for 1995 on health care.