Koch Group Nostalgic for Clinton Era

But definitely not the George W. Bush years.

US President Bill Clinton accepts the applause of members of Congress late 19 January on his arrival at the podium for his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

US President Bill Clinton accepts the applause of members of Congress late 19 January on his arrival at the podium for his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

WIN MCNAMEE/AFP/Getty Images

Americans for Prosperity, the free-market advocacy group created by Republican energy executives Charles and David Koch, is looking backward to the Clinton era for inspiration.

At a press conference Thursday, AFP President Tim Phillips couldn't stop talking about the great things that happened during Clinton's eight years in office, when the Democratic president worked with the Republican Congress "to accomplish a lot for the country on the economic freedom front." The dynamic duo passed NAFTA to foster trade among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. They also balanced the budget and reformed welfare. 

"It made a difference for the nation," Phillips said. "We were healthier economically because of that cooperation across the lines."

That era—not entirely cooperative by any stretch—should show the new Republican Congress that it's possible to achieve free-market priorities, he said, like repealing at least the most controversial parts of the health care law and promoting job creation through more lenient energy policies. 

In some ways, Phillips argued after the event, the same dynamics are there. (He was Virginia Representative Bob Goodlatte's chief of staff in the 1990s.) President Barack Obama, like Clinton, is thinking about his legacy. That's why welfare reform got done. And Republican lawmakers now, as then, must prove they can govern. "There was plenty of partisan rough-and-tumble, but at the end of the day, look what they got done," Phillips said.

It's not a perfectly symmetrical situation. For one, Obama isn't likely to go along with anything that chips away at his signature achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act. And while it's not out of the question that the president will approve the Keystone XL pipeline (though he has vowed to veto the existing version of the bill), that's not the same order of magnitude as welfare reform.

"I'm just saying they can do this," Phillips said of Republicans' ability to pass legislation that appeals to voters. "They have the incentive—both the Congress and the president."

One presidential period AFP would like to forget, on the other hand: the George W. Bush years. "It's incumbent on Republicans, candidly, to do the job here, to not fall back as they did in the early 2000s when they lost their way on spending," Phillips said. 

Americans for Prosperity's 2015 wish list:

  • Repeal Obamacare, and if that can't be done, at least end the medical device tax and remove the requirement that employers provide health care coverage for employees who work 30 hours a week (It should be 40 hours, they say.)
  • Stop passing "omnibus budgets" so sprawling and jammed through so quickly that Americans don't even have the chance to figure out what new spending they contain.
  • On energy, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, repeal the oil export ban, fight the new EPA regulations, and quit trying to ruin the refreshingly low gas prices by suggesting higher gas taxes.
  • Develop tax policies that encourage companies to bring their profits back to the U.S. and repeal the tax on a person's assets when they die.
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