Historic Documents of 1996


Edited by: CQ Press

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    The U.S. presidential election played a significant role in many events during 1996, and not just those in the United States. American policymakers at all levels of government had a keen interest in the outcome of the November elections, and overseas governments were just as interested in knowing who would be at the helm of U.S. foreign policy.

    As the year opened, the American political scene was contentious. Congressional Republicans, who had dominated Washington after their dramatic victories in the 1994 elections, miscalculated the extent of their electoral mandate and by early 1996 appeared vulnerable. On the flip side of the coin, President Bill Clinton, who appeared imperiled after the 1994 elections, was making a remarkable political recovery in 1996.

    Clinton grew stronger politically as the year progressed, particularly in comparison with the field of Republican candidates. Experienced and highly respected Republican leaders, such as Gov. Pete Wllson of California, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, and former governor Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, failed to catch on with voters in the early Republican primaries and caucuses and dropped out of the running.

    By February only two serious contenders remained: Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader, and Patrick Buchanan, a television commentator and former speechwriter. Dole always had been considered the front-runner because of his standing within the Republican party. Buchanan's deeply conservative stands on such issues as abortion and affirmative action won him intense loyalty within the far-right wing of the party but also made him too controversial a candidate to win the nomination. Dole had the nomination locked up by March—the earliest end to a contested race in recent memory. Clinton faced no serious opposition for the Democratic nomination.

    In the remaining seven months of the election season Dole constantly lagged behind Clinton in the public opinion polls. Despite his record as a war hero and his decades of service in Washington politics, Dole was unable to make a convincing case to voters why he should take Clinton's place in the White House. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire, made a second run at the presidency in 1996, this time as the nominee of his newly created Reform party. When the votes were counted, Perot won only 8 percent, far below the 19 percent he pulled in 1992.

    During the closing days of the campaign, it seemed possible that Clinton's coattails might enable Democrats to recapture the House of Representatives, but the voters endorsed the continuation of divided government. Republicans managed to hold their majority in the House, although the margin of control was narrowed, and they even picked up two seats in the Senate.

    Before members headed out on the campaign trail, Congress enacted several pieces of important legislation with the potential to affect the lives of millions of Americans. Perhaps the most controversial measure was a top-to- bottom overhaul of federal welfare policy. Conservative Republicans drafted and pushed through Congress a bill ending the government's decades-old commitment to provide income support for low-income families and their children. The welfare overhaul also denied federal benefits to immigrants, even those in the country legally. Despite his misgivings about some of the key provisions, President Clinton signed the bill into law.

    Democrats won a major legislative victory when Congress voted to raise the minimum wage from $4.25 an hour, the level it had been at since 1991, to $5.15 an hour by October 1997. Passage of the measure was a big political victory for Democrats and their union allies; it was an embarrassment for the Republican congressional leadership, including Bob Dole, who opposed the increase. Democrats initially had thought to use the issue to paint Republicans as insensitive to the needs of working men and women, but when several House Republicans said they would support the politically popular increase, the Democrats, backed by Clinton, pressed the issue and won handily in both chambers.

    Congress also swept aside decades of federal agriculture policy by enacting a Republican-drafted bill replacing crop subsidies with a system of fixed but declining payments to farmers. On a related issue, Congress overcame years of disagreement and inertia and enacted legislation setting new regulations on the use of agricultural pesticides.

    For the most part, differences over difficult social issues such as abortion were muted during the 1996 election campaign. One issue that attracted a lot of attention was an initiative on the California ballot that effectively would end most of the state's affirmative action programs. Among the initiative's supporters were WIlson and Dole, who had promised to end federal affirmative action programs if elected president. Similar initiatives had been proposed in several other states, but none had advanced as far as California's Proposition 209. The initiative passed with the support of 54 percent of the state's voters, but it was immediately challenged in court, where a federal district judge issued an injunction against enforcing it. Most observers thought the matter would eventually go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    In several recent cases, the Supreme Court had made clear its distaste for antidiscrimination programs based on race, but so far it had neither ruled all such programs unconstitutional nor set out clear guidelines delineating the circumstances under which consideration of race would be permissible. In its third decision in four years concerning racial gerrymandering, the Court was unable to muster a clear majority for a decisive ruling, leaving open to continued legal challenge those districts deliberately drawn to give majority status to blacks and other minorities.

    Families were a main theme of the presidential campaign. The Clinton administration undoubtedly won some votes from parents when it issued regulations making it difficult for teenagers and children to buy cigarettes and sharply curbing cigarette advertising directed at youthful smokers. The number of teenagers who smoke had been increasing for some years, even as the number of adults who smoke decreased. Among other things, the regulations provided that cigarette ads on billboards and in publications with a significant teenage readership be in black-and-white text, with no accompanying images. Cigarette makers were also barred from using the brand name of their cigarettes when sponsoring sporting, cultural, and other events. The major manufacturers immediately challenged the new regulations in federal court as a violation of their right to free speech.

    Republicans charged that the administration's campaign against teenage smoking was designed to distract attention from a disturbing set of statistics on teenage drug abuse. According to an annual government survey, the number of adolescents using drugs had more than doubled since 1992, to nearly 11 percent. Most teens and younger children who used illegal drugs used marijuana, but the number using cocaine and hallucinogens was also rising. Republicans pinned responsibility for the increase on the Clinton administration, which they said had a permissive attitude toward drugs.

    Even as the government was taking action to curb cigarette advertising, the liquor industry announced that it was giving up its voluntary ban on advertising its products on television and radio. It said that any ads aired on radio or television would be targeted to adults.

    For the fourth year in a row, the incidence of crime in the United States fell, and the crime rate-the number of crimes committed per 100,000 people—dropped to its lowest level since 1985. The government also announced that the rate of deaths caused by cancer had declined in the early 1990s—the first decline in the cancer death rate ever recorded. A decrease in the number of people who smoke was considered the biggest factor in lowering the death rate, but lower alcohol consumption levels, less exposure to the sun, and better diets also contributed to the decline.

    Internationally, Russia was the focus of attention for much of the year, as the biggest and most important of the emerging democracies continued to stumble its way through major challenges. At the outset of 1996 it appeared likely that President Boris Yeltsin, who led Russia into a new era of democracy and free markets, had spent his last remaining political capital and would be ousted from office by a resurgent—if somewhat reformed—Communist party. Yeltsin proved to have more resiliency than most people imagined, and in June he handily won the first presidential elections that Russia held as an independent country after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even so, Yeltsin's health was precarious, and by the end of 1996 the future of Russian democracy was again uncertain.

    In a similar vein, peacemaking survived serious challenges during the year in Bosnia and the Middle East. Bosnia was at peace in 1996—no one died in conflict there for the first time since 1992. The process of rebuilding the war-torn and still bitterly divided country was kept on track, if only through constant pressure from outside powers and the unwillingness of any one party to be held responsible for the collapse of the peace agreement.

    The United States and its European allies applied pressure to force Radavon Karadicz, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs who had been indicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal, out of office. That step enabled an election to proceed as planned in September. Bosnians once again gave political power to the same nationalist parties that dragged Bosnia into war in 1992. Despite numerous charges of electoral fraud, UN-appointed monitors certified the validity of the outcome, allowing the peace process to continue.

    The fragile peace process between Israel and its Palestinian foes also survived a political challenge when Israeli voters narrowly ousted the Labor party, which negotiated the peace, and installed a right-wing coalition opposed to the concepts underlying that peace. Benjamin Netanyahu, who denounced the Oslo peace accord negotiated in 1993, in June became the first Israeli prime minister elected directly by the voters. Once in office, Netanyahu discovered that it was easier to criticize the peace process than to undo it. Within weeks, many of his political allies were angered by his willingness to meet with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and his refusal to backtrack on Israel's commitment to give Palestinians control over daily affairs in much of the West Bank.

    A sticking point for much of the year was the question of how Israel would keep its promise to give the Palestinians control over most of the West Bank city of Hebron. Several hundred Israeli settlers had moved into Hebron and were demanding that the Israeli government protect them against the Palestinian majority by retaining military control of the city. U.S. envoy Dennis Ross mediated the Hebron dispute for months and at year's end was still trying to bridge the gap.

    Negotiations were more successful during 1996 on another long-term proposition: an international treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons. President Dwight Eisenhower had first proposed the concept in the 1950s, and several limited nuclear testing treaties had gone into effect in the intervening four decades. It took the end of the cold war to give life to the idea of a comprehensive ban on nuclear tests. India, which exploded a nuclear device in 1974, tried to block international agreement on such a treaty, but proponents took the measure to the UN General Assembly, which adopted it overwhelmingly in September.

    Meanwhile, Senate Republicans derailed, at least for 1996, U.S. ratification of another treaty banning the manufacture, possession, or use of chemical weapons. Concluded In 1993 and signed by President George Bush as one of his last official acts, the treaty had been pending in the Senate and seemed close to approval. Responding to concerns by conservatives about the treaty, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole used his leverage to block Senate action. As a result, the treaty was to go into effect without the involvement of either the United States or Russia, which had the world's largest arsenals of chemical weapons.

    These are but some of the topics of national and international interest chosen by the editors of Historic Documents of 1996. This edition marks the twenty-fifth volume of a Congressional Quarterly project that began with Historic Documents of 1972. The purpose of this series is to give students, librarians, journalists, scholars, and others convenient access to documents on a wide range of topics that set forth some of the most important issues of the year. In our judgment, the official statements, news conferences, speeches, special studies, and court decisions presented here will be of lasting interest.

    Each document is preceded by an introduction that provides background information and, when relevant, an account of continuing developments during the year. We believe these introductions will become increasingly useful as memories of current times fade.

    John Felton and Marty Gottron

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