The Clinton Administration
After the Gulf War victory, President Bush's popularity soared. A troubled economy, however, hurt Bush's reelection chances for 1992 and encouraged challengers to enter the race. The Democrats nominated Arkansas governor Bill Clinton to run against President Bush. Clinton chose Tennessee senator Al Gore as his running mate. The Clinton campaign focused on the economy and the high unemployment rate.
Unhappy with "politics as
usual," many Americans did not want to vote for either Bush or Clinton. A
grassroots movement - people organizing at the local level around the nation -
put Texas businessman H. Ross Perot on the ballot as a third-party candidate.
Perot stressed the need to end the government's deficit spending, or spending
more money than it takes in.
Americans elected Clinton, the first president born after World War II. Clinton received 43 percent of the popular vote, Bush 38 percent, and Perot 19 percent. Clinton received less than a majority of the votes because of Perot's strong showing, the highest percentage of popular votes for any third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.
The Task: Part 2
One of the new president's
goals was reducing the budget deficit - the amount by which spending exceeds
revenue. Clinton proposed cutting government spending, raising taxes for middle
and upper-income Americans, and providing tax credits to the poorest. Most
Republicans in Congress opposed this plan, but it narrowly passed.
Clinton faced even
stronger opposition to his plan for health-care reform. His goal was to control
rising health-care costs and provide adequate health insurance for every
American. The president named the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to head
the task force.
Congress rejected the
Clinton plan, calling it too expensive and too reliant on government control.
Later, Congress did pass a number of measures that provided more health-care
protection for workers who changed jobs, the elderly, children, and other groups
During his first term,
President Clinton won some legislative battles. Despite strong opposition, the
president succeeded in passing the Brady Bill of 1993. The law imposed a waiting
period and background checks for handgun purchases. The 1994 crime bill banned
19 kinds of assault weapons and provided for 100,000 new police officers.
Another Clinton proposal that became law was the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. It permitted workers to take time off from their jobs for special family situations.
Before the 1994
congressional elections, a group of Republicans crafted a new plan of action.
Led by Representative Newt Gingrich of Georgia, congressional Republicans
declared a Contract with America to...
~~return to the basic
values that had built the country: work and family and the recognition of a
higher moral authority.~~
In the contract,
Republicans promised to reduce the federal government, balance the budget, lower
taxes, and reform how Congress operates. They also pledged to pass laws to
reduce crime, reform welfare, and strengthen the family.
The result was a strong
Republican victory in the 1994 elections. For the first time in 40 years, the
Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. In their first hundred days in
office, the Republicans passed many parts of the Contract with America.
Congress passed a
line-item veto bill. Intended as a way to reduce wasteful spending, the
line-item veto allowed the president to cancel any individual items within a
spending bill. The Supreme Court later overturned the law. It ruled that such an
increase in the president's power could be granted only through a
Other parts of the Contract with America were also rejected. Some proposals stalled in the Senate, and President Clinton vetoed several Republican bills on welfare reform and the budget. Clinton argued that budget cuts would hurt elderly people on Medicare, damage the environment, and damage education.
Problems and Compromise
Disagreement between the
president and congressional Republicans continued. A major dispute blocked
passage of the 1996 budget, causing the federal government to run out of money.
The government shut down nonessential services twice for a total of 27 days.
Congress and the president recognized that compromise was needed.
Both the Republicans in
Congress and President Clinton proposed plans for a balanced budget. The
president also pushed for an increase in the minimum wage and sponsored a
welfare reform bill that set a work requirement for people receiving benefits
and put a five-year time limit on benefits.
Wins a Second Term
The Republicans hoped to
recapture the White House in 1996. However, passage of the Brady Act and the
Crime Act weakened Republican arguments that Clinton was soft on crime. Most
important, the economy was healthy and unemployment was at a 30-year low.
President Clinton easily won reelection, beating the Republican candidate,
former Senate majority leader Robert Dole.
The American economy
continued to grow. One measure of this growth is the
gross domestic product (GDP),
which is the value of all the goods and services produced in a nation in a year.
In 1996 and 1997, the GDP grew by about 4 percent a year-one of the highest
rates of growth since the post-World War II boom.
The economy's growth
increased the amount of tax money the government received. At the same time, the
president and Congress cut back the size of the federal budget. The federal
budget is prepared for a fiscal year-a 12-month planning period. The 1998
fiscal year ended with a federal budget surplus - the amount of money remaining
after all expenditures - of about $80 billion. It was the first surplus in three
In 1994 legal questions
arose relating to real estate investments Clinton had made while governor of
Arkansas. Attorney General Janet Reno appointed an independent counsel to
investigate the president. Kenneth Starr, a former federal judge, led the
investigation. As other scandals were exposed, Starr widened the scope of the
In early 1998 a new
scandal emerged involving a personal relationship between the president and a
White House intern. Evidence suggested that the president may have committed
perjury, or lied under oath, about the relationship. In September, Starr sent a
report to Congress claiming that President Clinton had committed perjury and
obstructed justice in an effort to conceal the personal relationship.
The House of
Representatives voted to hold hearings to decide whether to impeach the
president, in response to Starr's report. To impeach is to make a formal
accusation of wrongdoing against a public official. The House scheduled the
hearings for November, following the 1998 congressional elections.
With Clinton in trouble,
the Republicans expected to make major gains in the 1998 elections. Instead, the
Democrats gained 5 seats in the House, although they still trailed the
Republicans 223 to 211. The Senate remained unchanged, with 55 Republicans and
45 Democrats. Incumbents - the current officeholders - did extremely well in the
Although there was general
agreement that the president had lied, Congress was divided over whether his
actions justified impeachment. Clinton's supporters argued that his offenses did
not qualify as "high crimes and misdemeanors," as stated in the Constitution.
Clinton's accusers insisted that the "rule of law" is a fundamental principle of
American society, and that the president should be held accountable if his
actions were illegal.
On December 19, 1998, the
House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment, one for perjury and
one for obstruction of justice. With this action, Bill Clinton became only the
second president ever to be impeached. The case moved to the Senate for trial. A
two-thirds majority Senate vote is needed to convict and remove a president from
On February 12, 1999, the
senators cast their votes. The result was 45 guilty to 55 not guilty on the
perjury article, and 50 guilty to 50 not guilty on the obstruction of justice
Acquitted of both charges, Bill Clinton had survived the challenge to his presidency.
Even as the nation
struggled with domestic issues, international matters presented new challenges.
Important decisions faced American policymakers on defining the nation's role
in the post-Cold War world.
In 1993 Clinton persuaded Congress to ratify the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Under NAFTA the United States, Canada, and Mexico agreed to eliminate trade barriers among the three nations. NAFTA opponents feared a loss of U.S. jobs. Farmers also feared NAFTA, saying that lowpriced Mexican produce would undercut American goods. Supporters argued that the treaty would lower prices for American consumers and expand markets.
East Peace Accords
In September 1993
President Clinton invited Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir
Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to the White House
for the signing of a historic agreement between the two leaders. Israel
recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, and the PLO
recognized Israel's right to exist. The agreement created a plan for limited
Palestinian self-government over certain areas in Israel.
Opposition to the plan
emerged on both sides and the violence continued. In 1995 an Israeli extremist
assassinated Prime Minister Rabin. In 2001 Ariel Sharon, the new Israeli prime
minister, pledged to put Israel's security above the peace process. The region
remained as far from peace as ever.
Peacekeeping in the Balkans
As you read earlier, civil
war had erupted in the former Yugoslavia. Bitter fighting followed, especially
in Bosnia, where Serbs engaged in ethnic cleansing-forcibly removing or killing
members of the Muslim population. NATO air strikes on their positions brought
Serbs to the bargaining table. The Clinton administration then led peace talks,
which produced the Dayton Accords in December 1995.
In 1998 Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic attempted to drive the Muslims out of the Kosovo region. The United States and NATO launched air strikes against Serbia, until Serb troops withdrew from Kosovo and its Muslim population could return.
The Task: Part 3