Texas: Seventh District|
Rep. Bill Archer (R)
Last Updated December 3, 1999
When George Bush moved from Midland in West Texas to Houston in 1960, he bought a house in Briarwood, in what was then the western edge of the fast-growing city, beyond Memorial Park and Loop 610, long before the Galleria and high-rises went up around the intersection of Post Oak and Westheimer. Bush returned to Houston in 1993 and built a new house a mile from his old one, just west of Memorial Park, the largest in Houston. Bush's favorite shopping mall is nearby on Sage and San Felipe and his favorite barbecue joint a mile east on Memorial; his new office is atop the Park Laureate building at 10000 Memorial. But now all these landmarks are not at the edge of the vastly bigger--and in the 1990s increasingly economically vibrant--Houston metropolitan area, but near its epicenter, certainly its retail center and not far from its commercial center, though the industrial center of gravity remains far to the east, near the Ship Channel.
The 7th Congressional District is the lineal descendant of the district that elected George Bush its first member of the House in 1966 and 1968. It occupied far more territory then, and its boundaries have been pared back as the population of the west side of Houston has skyrocketed. There are more than 1.5 million people today in the area that had 350,000 when Bush was first elected. Indeed, in 1990 the then-7th District had 784,000 people, the second most in Texas. The district was pared back in 1992, and it was not much changed by the 1996 court redistricting, so that it now starts just outside Memorial Park and extends west on Westheimer and the Katy Freeway and occupies most of Harris County west of Hillcroft and Bingle. It remains hyper-Republican, arguably the most Republican district in the nation.
The congressman from the 7th District is Bill Archer, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who was elected to the House in 1970 when Bush ran for the Senate. Archer grew up in Houston, graduated from the University of Texas and after service in the Air Force ran a feed business and participated in civic affairs. He was elected to the state House in 1966 as a Democrat, a very conservative one; in 1968 he switched parties and in 1970 was easily elected to the House as a Republican. His devotion to free market economics, cultural conservatism and an assertive foreign policy give him one of the most conservative voting records in the House. He joined Ways and Means in 1973, when Chairman Wilbur Mills let Republicans participate as much as Democrats. From 1975-94, when Al Ullman and Dan Rostenkowski were chairmen, Archer was given little say on most issues. Sometimes he was even a minority within his party. He opposed the 1983 Social Security bailout and was one of the Republicans who nearly scuttled the 1986 tax reform in December 1985. He opposed the budget summit agreement of 1990. He is a scrupulous man, who insists on preparing his own income tax every year because he wants to understand the burdens it imposes--in 1998 it took him ''two full weekend days''; he refuses to take PAC contributions and has never held a Washington fundraiser, though he could easily raise millions, and he stays punctiliously loyal to his convictions.
As chairman, Archer has behaved courteously and worked hard, has cooperated with the Republican leadership on many major issues but has also moved strategically to put his own imprint on long-term policy. Through much of the 104th Congress, Archer's leeway on issues was sharply circumscribed by the Republican leadership. The Contract with America specified what tax cuts Republicans would seek, and Budget Chairman John Kasich pressed other tasks on Archer and his committee, including what Kasich considers cuts in corporate welfare and what Archer considers tax increases on business. On two other major issues in which Ways and Means passed major reforms--welfare and Medicare--subcommittee chairmen, Clay Shaw on welfare and Bill Thomas on Medicare, did much of the detail work, and Republican governors made large contributions as well. But Archer also showed a mastery of specifics and strategy. He played a major role in keeping Medical Savings Accounts in the health care bill passed in August 1996. Archer managed to do all this while leaving committee meetings and legislative drafting much more open than they had been under Rostenkowski, though Democrats still complained.
The May 1997 balanced budget agreement gave Archer the task of coming up with a package of tax cuts that had been vaguely defined and limited to specific sums. Archer's package included a significant cut in the capital gains tax--a longtime goal--raising the threshold for the inheritance tax from $600,000 to $1 million, expanding IRAs and the $150 per child tax credit. Archer's leeway was narrow, since the total cuts were limited to $95 billion; since computers allow rapid calculations of tax impacts, the process produced exceptions and income limits which complicated the Code far more than Archer desired. This was not the only issue on which Archer was frustrated by the Republican leadership. He opposed extending the ethanol subsidies; but Newt Gingrich, concerned about Republican incumbents in farm states, insisted on an extension to 2007 in the June 1998 transportation bill. Archer produced a bill in September 1998 which included ending the marriage penalty, 100% deductibility for health insurance for the self-employed, and a speed-up of raising the threshold for the inheritance tax. But it was abandoned in October. As Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were hitting record numbers of home runs, Archer said he would introduce a bill to prevent fans who caught home run balls and donated them from having to pay a gift tax. In October 1998 he barred the move to exempt from tax the reward money for David Kaczynski, brother of the Unabomber, although he promised to donate it all to his brothers' victims.
Archer took up Bill Clinton's January 1999 challenge to reserve 62% of the surplus for Social Security, though he wanted much of the rest to go to tax cuts. In December 1998 he called on Clinton to introduce his own Social Security reform before Ways and Means would act on the issue; although Clinton presented only a sketchy outline, in April 1999 Archer and subcommittee Chairman Clay Shaw introduced their own bill. It would give workers tax credits amounting to 2% of income and require them to put it into one of several private investment funds; on retirement, they would have to turn the funds over to the government, which would pay them an annuity based on the amount, with a minimum of what they would have gotten through the Social Security payroll tax. A Clinton spokesman said it ''could be the basis for bipartisan consensus,'' but it was criticized both on left and right, and in June 1999 it seemed unlikely to be passed by either house.
Republican rules impose a three-term limit on chairmanships; Archer announced before the 1998 election that he would not run for re-election in 2000. How much will he have achieved as chairman of his goals? His greatest long-term goal has been to replace the income tax with a broad-based consumption tax. That never became party policy, partly because Majority Leader Dick Armey called for a flat tax and partly because after Clinton's re-election in 1996 the House has not had the stomach to do all the work needed to enact a major reform when it seemed to face a sure veto and much demagoguery. But Archer has made some progress, within the limits set by budget negotiations, on cutting taxes. And if in the process he has had to make the tax code more rather than less complicated, that may in fact build more pressure over the long-run for abandonment of the income tax for a less complex tax system. The issue has been put on the table and, whatever the prospects of the Archer-Shaw Social Security bill, so has the issue of Social Security reform. And it is hard to imagine even a Democratic Congress and president increasing taxes again after the experience of 1994. In either case Archer, who before 1994 seemed to be a backer of lost causes, has reason to feel some satisfaction as well as frustration.
Archer was always re-elected easily; in 1998 he won with 93% of the vote. The next congressman from the 7th District seems sure to be chosen in the March 2000 Republican primary. The leading candidate in mid-1999 seemed to be state Representative John Culberson, a 12-year legislator who worked on tort reform, tax cuts and an end of federal control of the Texas prison system. Running more as a cultural conservative was Republican National Committeewoman Cathy McConn. Other possible candidates include businessman Peter Wareing, son-in-law of Texas oilman Jack Blanton, and attorney Mark Brewer. This is likely to be a million-dollar battle for what could be a lifetime seat.
Safe. Though Archer is retiring at the end of this--his 15th--term, Republicans will have no trouble keeping this seat in their column. Expect a crowded Republican primary, but little other action here in 2000.
- Pop. 1990: 565,007
- 3.5% rural;
6.1% age 65+;
- 80.5% White,
0.3% Amer. Indian,
16.1% Hispanic origin;
54% married couple families;
29.9% married couple fams. w. children;
69.8% college educ.;
median household income: $40,331;
per capita income: $22,666;
median gross rent: $394;
median house value: $92,100.
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