Conservatives are still debating whether the GOP-led Congress gave away too much to President Clinton in the balanced-budget/tax-relief package. In some areas, there's no doubt they did.
For instance, why did they ever cave in to the demand to pay workfare recipients a minimum wage? This all but ruins the very welfare reform Republicans labored so hard to achieve last year. Perversely, it also enables President Clinton to crow that he made good on his vow, when he signed the historic legislation, that he would "go back and fix it next year."
Fix it, he did. Now it will be impossible to make welfare recipients work for their welfare benefits. Many of these people have neither the training nor education to hold a minimum-wage job. Consequently, companies, as well as local and state governments, won't be able to afford to hire them to teach them job-holding skills.
This will open the door for bleeding hearts to come back in a few years when the benefits run out and claim that "welfare reform hasn't worked" -- so open up the welfare spigot again. Surely, Republicans should have been able to negotiate a budget package without giving up nearly everything they won on welfare.
But however badly their deal-making strategy turned out, they can take some comfort that the pact itself stands as a solid, symbolic victory for conservatism. Consider that in 1994, when voters elected the first GOP Congress in 40 years, the idea of any tax cuts at all were off the radar screen as far as "enlightened" opinion was concerned. Even balancing the budget was considered an "obsession" espoused only by green eye-shade right-wingers with no sense of human compassion.
Today a Democrat president, with strong tax-and-spend instincts, has signed onto the largest tax-relief bill in 16 years. And the deficit is slated to be gone in only five years.
Clinton can take all the credit he wants for these developments, but history will show they wouldn't have happened without the 1994 election of a Republican Congress. That changed everything -- including the direction of the country. The president only won re-election because he stole the successful '94 GOP themes (including family values) for himself.
It's just a shame Republicans haven't found a way to translate their clear ideological victory onto the political battlefield. The best that can be said is they've come a long way, but still have a very long way to go to bring about the kind of changes that could transform the country.