Janice Ayres: Partisanship has long history in U.S. | NevadaAppeal.com

Janice Ayres: Partisanship has long history in U.S.

Janice Ayres
For the Nevada Appeal

I was recently reading about the 104th Congress, which convened Jan. 4, 1995, when Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years, and yet we elected a Democrat for president, Bill Clinton.

Newt Gingrich was House speaker, and Bob Dole was Senate majority leader. The agenda for most of 1995 was dominated by the “Contract With America,” a legislative program endorsed by most GOP House candidates during the 1994 campaign.

As expected, a budget deadlock between Congress and the White House led to two partial shutdowns of the federal government – Nov. 14-20, 1995; and Dec. 16, 1995 – Jan. 4, 1996. Sound familiar?

The long-anticipated confrontation between Clinton and Congress over the federal budget moved closer when both the House and Senate approved a reconciliation bill. Clinton objected to the bill because of the GOP proposed reductions in expenditures for education, health and the environment. This was supposed to be worked out in the conference committee.

There also was a bill that reduced by two-thirds the reduction in expenditures coming out of entitlement programs. Both bills aimed to reduce projected outlays for Medicare (by $270 billion), and Medicaid would be scrapped in favor of block grants, or lump sums to states to run their own programs.

Both houses approved the elimination of the federal aid to families with dependent children program in favor of block grants to states.

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As to the upcoming presidential race, you may remember, Barack Obama wasn’t the first black man to consider or aspire to the presidency of the United States. Colin Powell, a Republican, was courted by many of his party members in Congress to seek the nomination in 1996 and he considered it seriously. Powell, who was a Vietnam war veteran and the first black man to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was a moderate, and was widely admired for his leadership qualities and was seen as someone who could improved the status of race relations in the United States.

Powell said he would decide after promoting his book “My American Journey.” A number of leading Republican conservatives declared that they opposed his candidacy, though other conservatives urged him to run. In his announcement that he was not going to run, he said he did not have the “passion and commitment” to run for president. It was rumored that his wife begged him not to run because she feared if he won he would be assassinated. I for one thought he would have been a great president.

Powell went on to become heavily involved in social service programs and headed up many of the programs Clinton embraced such as AmeriCorps (for youth) and senior volunteer programs (Foster Grandparents, Senior Companion and RSVP), to name a few.

I was invited to the White House by Clinton for a celebration of the fifth successful year of AmeriCorps and was privileged to hear Powell speak, and again realized what a shame it was that such a great American was just not at the right place at the right time.

I was involved in the civil rights movement and thought the most powerful words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were from his “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he said, “I have a dream that this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'” He also said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

• Janice Ayres is immediate past president of the Nevada Senior Corps Association.