ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO FOR USN&WR
In public, they were oil and water. As president, Bill Clinton distrusted then House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and the Republican felt the same way about Clinton. But in a shocking revelation, we're learning that the political foes—desperate for a heroic legacy—made a secret pact to fix the nation's most problematic programs like Social Security. The plan crashed, however, in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. "Monica changed everything," says former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles.
It was in 1997, when the budget was flush and partisanship at a lull, says Steven Gillon, a History Channel host and University of Oklahoma professor who reveals the deal in his upcoming page-turner, The Pact. "This was a moment where everything came together to create this possibility in 1997-98," he says. "Those circumstances will probably never be duplicated." Using Gingrich's notes and interviews with Bowles and other Clintonistas, he describes months of meetings leading to a face-to-face in the Treaty Room on Oct. 28, 1997. The plan: Clinton would propose fixing Social Security and Gingrich would back it. Both would work their sides to pass it after the 1998 elections. Other deals would follow. But the Lewinsky saga broke first, returning partisanship. "It really did matter, and it destroyed this moment of bipartisanship that both of them had worked hard for," says Gillon.