House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) has built a reputation as a committed ideologue and a tough legislator. He is one of a group of conservative Southerners dominating the GOP leadership that includes Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
After years as an economics professor, Armey abandoned academia for the U.S. House in 1984. Brash and outspoken, he soon grabbed his party's attention and, by his second term, had won a seat on the Budget Committee. In 1992, Armey became chairman of the House Republican Conference, just below then-Minority Whip Gingrich in the GOP hierarchy.
Having consistently promoted smaller, leaner government, Armey teamed with Gingrich in 1994 to create the "Contract With America," which served as a rallying point for Republican candidates in their successful drive to regain control of Congress.
With the retirement of Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) in 1994, Armey ascended to Majority Leader of the Republican-controlled 104th Congress, with Gingrich as speaker. Armey was also assigned the task of pushing through the legislation promised in the "Contract With America."
His impact may be even greater in the 105th Congress. In November 1996, Gingrich told House Republicans Armey would handle the day-to-day House operations, calling him his "CEO."
He is not eager to compromise principle for a deal with Democrats. "The system worked fine, except when Newt would have a breakdown in discipline," Armey told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in October 1996. Unapologetic about his party's conservative agenda, Armey thinks the GOP made a mistake not pushing its goals further and faster.
Armey built an enormous reservoir of loyalty among returning House members during 1996, hitting more than 100 congressional districts and raising $3.1 million in the process. Additionally, he donated an additional $1.5 million from his own political coffers to GOP candidates.
The White House is a frequent target of Armey's barbs. He once referred to Hillary Clinton as "Marxist"; during a campaign appearance in North Carolina this year, he said, "There's no Republican I know who dares tell the truth about the Clinton Administration. If we tell the truth, we're considered meanspirited."
Skeptical of government intrusion in the economy, Armey fiercely opposed last year's minimum wage hike, and is a major advocate for abolishing the tax code in favor of a flat tax. He opposes most business mandates (like the family leave law) and supports a plan for school vouchers that would allow parents to send their children to the private or public school of their choice. He has also been one of the loudest proponents of eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts.
Clinton will need GOP votes to get anything meaningful accomplished during the 105th Congress, but he shouldn't expect much help from Armey.
Updated Jan. 31, 1997
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