IN his State of the Union address President Clinton declared that ''the era of big government is over.'' This admission signals the beginning of a new era, in which Americans will enjoy more opportunity and freedom from government intrusion. It constitutes a major victory for the American people and for the new faces they chose to represent them in 1994.
Before we in the freshman class of 11 Republican senators came to Washington in 1995, it appeared that big government could not be stopped. Congress and the president debated how much to raise the people's taxes; the president sought to take over one-seventh of the economy - the health care industry - and give it to the federal government; and the multiplication of government agencies, regulations, and mandates seemed unstoppable.
Today we are debating with the president over how large a tax cut America's working people must have. We are working toward a balanced budget by the year 2002 and have brought a halt to unrestrained government growth. This last session we even passed out of committee, for the first time ever, a plan to dismantle the outdated and anarchic Department of Commerce.
This great change came about because the new Republicans and their returning colleagues made it their business to rein in the federal government. We passed legislation making Congress abide by the same rules it applies to the rest of America. We ended Congress's practice of ordering states, localities, and businesses to make reforms without voting the money to pay for them. We instituted lobbying reform and a gift ban. Through all these measures, we sought to make Congress more accountable to the people. Accountability breeds responsibility: When public officials know that they must pay for their mandates, that they will have to abide by the rules they promulgate, that there are limits to how much they can tax and spend, they begin to live within their means. Under these circumstances, members of Congress will begin to govern less and leave more liberty for the American people, acting as individuals or through their communities and states.
This is not to say that government has suddenly been brought under control. The federal government still takes for taxes 25 cents of every dollar earned. It still employs about 4 million people. It still costs the US economy $60 billion per year in regulatory and paperwork-compliance costs.
And the freshman Republicans have not always been successful in enacting their proposals. The president vetoed the first balanced budget proposed in 25 years. He is balking at our middle-class tax cuts, including our $500 per-child family tax credit. He vetoed a welfare-reform bill that would end welfare as we know it.
More troubling, we still do not have a sufficient number of like-minded colleagues to keep Senate Democrats from filibustering and otherwise killing important reforms. Both regulatory reform and broad civil-justice reform fell victim to Democratic intransigence. House Republicans have the votes to pass important reforms. In the Senate we can usually muster the majority needed for these reforms, but we don't have the 60 votes necessary to close off Democratic filibusters - or the 67 votes necessary to override a veto.
We have laid the groundwork for a smaller, more responsible federal government. But we have a long way to go. We Republicans, who value personal liberty and limited government, must have reinforcements if we are to continue winning the battle against the federal Leviathan. Clinton may have meant it when he said the era of big government is over. But to make that a reality will require a stronger Republican presence in Washington.