Congress: Lewinsky or Legislation?

Updated July 10, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

1998 News of the Nation

Not only the President, but Congress itself was in danger of having its reputation rest on the sex scandal. With the public's approval ratings of Congress only 43% in Sept. 1998, many Americans felt Congress's partisan exploitation of Clinton's troubles occurred at the expense of legislative achievement, preventing either side from keeping its promises. Democrats failed to raise the minimum wage, tackle the tobacco industry, follow through on a “patient's bill of rights,” or reform the campaign finance system, while Republicans failed to produce a tax cut or override the veto of the “partial-birth” abortion bill. Neither party faced the social security issue. Congress's achievements included an overhaul of the I.R.S., increased educational funding, and the expansion of NATO. In its final act of the term, Congress hastily cobbled together a 4,000-page budget laden with pork—including a $1.1 million manure-handling project in Mississippi and $1 million for peanut research in Georgia—which only reinforced Americans' growing cynicism toward their government.

The House's poor showing in the mid-term elections—loss of five seats—led to the unexpected resignation of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who was blamed for weakening the party by emphasizing the presidential sex scandal rather than substantive issues. A second surprise came a month later, when Speaker-Elect Bob Livingston resigned after allegations of his own adultery surfaced. Among his reasons for resigning were conservatives' fury at this undisclosed skeleton in Livingston's closet. While Democrats had played down Clinton's collapsed moral authority as a reason for impeachment, Republicans had trumpeted it. With the flawed Livingston as their Speaker, righteous indignation at Clinton's ethical failings would have rung hollow.

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