The Republican Congress that came in with such fanfare 12 years ago went out with a demoralized, beaten whimper Saturday, leaving behind a dozen years of scandals, bloated pork barrel bills, out-of-control budgets and bureaucracies and a history of arrogance.
Some, like defeated GOP Senator Conrad Burns of Montana, left — as the New York Times described it — "in a huff" while others avoided reporters as they stole away in the early morning hours.
As Jonathan Weisman reports in The Washington Post:
Demoralized Republicans adjourned the 109th Congress at 5 a.m. yesterday with a near-empty Capitol, closing the door on a dozen years of nearly unbroken GOP control by spending more time in the final days lamenting their failures — to rein in government, tame the deficit and temper their own lust for power — than reliving their successes.
Still reeling from their electoral defeat Nov. 7, Republicans capped an era of conservative ascendance with the passage of business tax break extensions, a package of trade measures, and legislation to stave off cuts to physician payments they once trumpeted in their budget-cutting drive.
While GOP leaders touted their handiwork, it was a far cry from 12 years ago when the Republicans swept to power with the zeal of self-described revolutionaries and a mission to shrink the size of government, limit its reach, strengthen the nation’s security and end an era of a privileged, imperial Congress.
"Together, we reformed welfare. We cut taxes, and small businesses grew all over the nation," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said in a late-night, farewell address. "We promised to protect this nation from further attack, and by grace of God and with the leadership of President Bush, we have been successful."
But beyond Hastert’s speech, a conclusion punctuated by the release of a scathing House ethics committee report on the Mark Foley-House page scandal and last-minute budget squabbles yielded more recriminations than congratulations.
"You know, the American people took the reins of government away from the Republican party . . . in this last election. They did so, I think, in large part because they were tired of our hypocrisy," fumed Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) from the Senate floor. "Our leadership and some of our members grew arrogant in their own power, and with arrogance comes corruption," said Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), a member of the class of 1994.
"We came to change Washington, and Washington changed us," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Anne E. Kornblut and Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times wrote:
In bursts of giddiness and remorse, members of Congress went through not just the end of the 109th Congress this week, but also 12 years of Republican control. It was the end of an era, and Republicans left Capitol Hill with spasms of amusement, anger and humiliation, at times visibly stunned that power and its trappings had vanished so fast.
They cleared out their belongings, leaving the hallways full of broken furniture and overflowing trash bins. They gave emotional farewell speeches on the floor.
They tried — rather unsuccessfully — to wrap up business, displaying a lack of legislative discipline that was a sharp contrast to the machinelike efficiency of their early years in charge.
Some lawmakers, like Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, walked off in a huff.
Representative Charles Bass, Republican of New Hampshire, paused to ruminate about his party’s descent as he descended to the temporary quarters allocated to incumbents who lost on Nov. 7, a cluster of cubicles in the basement of a House office building.
“When I was elected in 1994, there were seven of us,” Mr. Bass said, referring to the cadre of New England Republicans who long made up the moderate wing of his party. “It’s been downhill ever since. And now we’re down to one.”
It was, in the end, a fitting, humiliating farewell to a party that turned Congress into an arrogant, scandal-ridden, corrupt legislative body. Those who left will not be missed. Those who remain had best remember the message from voters on November 7.