The Baby Business Bill and Other Newt Ideas

by Brian Bolduc

The Jobs on Earth through Jobs in Space Act — is this Newt Gingrich’s latest legislative proposal? Nope, it’s a bill he considered in the 1980s.

“Newt has ten ideas a day,” jokes former congressman Scott Klug. “Two of them are good, six are weird, and two are very weird.”

Yes, Newt has ideas aplenty, as shown by an early-1980s memo, sent to NRO by former congressman Mark Souder. Written by Gingrich and his second wife, Marianne, the document provides a window into the ex-speaker’s mind. Entitled “The Shift from the Liberal Welfare State to a Conservative Opportunity Society,” it appears to be a brainstorming document Gingrich prepared for members of COS, a group of conservative congressmen who plotted the overthrow the Democratic majority during the Reagan era.

“The key to the 1980s isn’t to finish tearing down the Liberal Welfare State,” the memo reads. “The key to success for our generation is to build a Conservative Opportunity Society.” To build that society, Gingrich argues that the Republican caucus must offer fresh ideas to attract voters. And to that end, the memo includes a list of 34 potential bills.

“Each item below is an idea for a new legislative bill designed to appeal to a specific new or existing iron triangle or to solve a fundamental problem in the transition to a Conservative Opportunity Society,” the memo reads. An “iron triangle” is a mutually reinforcing relationship among a congressional committee, an executive bureaucracy, and an interest group. Presumably, the memo means that each bill is designed to appeal to a different interest group, with the intention of attracting enough groups to forge a Republican majority. Frank Gregorsky, a former aide to Gingrich, told me last month that the ex-speaker has long advocated such an approach:

“Newt wanted to use tax credits, regulatory breaks, and government favors to build up a Republican majority,” Gregorsky explains. His model was Franklin Roosevelt, whom Gingrich cited in multiple speeches and whom he called in December 1994 “the greatest figure of the 20th century.” Roosevelt’s approach, which Gingrich imitated, was to “bluntly trade positive government action to get the loyalty of key voting blocs and interest groups,” Gregorsky says.

You can read the memo here: cover, page one, page two. Some of the proposed bills sound curious: the Baby Business Bill, the War of Ideas Act, the International Barnraising Bill, the National Right to Knowledge Bill, the Older Americans Bill of Rights.

This memo seems to be only a planning document. Gingrich wasn’t necessarily serious about turning these ideas into actual legislation; he was merely giving his friends food for thought. But the memo does show a distinctive characteristic of Gingrich’s: his love of ideas — even ideas that sound, at first hearing, a little odd.