Rep. John Spratt (D)
Elected: 1982, 14th term.
Born: Nov. 1, 1942, Charlotte, NC .
Education: Davidson Col., A.B. 1964, Oxford U., M.A. 1966, Yale U., LL.B. 1969.
Family: Married (Jane Stacy); 3 children.
Military career: Army Operations, U.S. Dept. of Defense, 1969–71.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1971–82; Pres., Bank of Ft. Mill, 1973–82; Pres., Spratt Insurance Agcy., 1973–82.
The congressman from the 5th District is John Spratt, a Democrat elected in 1982 and the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He comes from a prominent York County family and graduated from Davidson College, Oxford University and Yale Law School. He served two years in the Army, in the Operations Analysis Group in the office of the Pentagon comptroller. He first got involved in politics in Charles Ravenel’s unsuccessful 1974 Democratic campaign for governor. In 1982, the 5th District incumbent announced his retirement a week before the filing deadline. Spratt quickly put together a campaign and won 38% in the primary, 55% in the runoff against a high-spending candidate, and 68% in the general election. A hastily improvised campaign led to a long political career. Today, Spratt is a widely respected member of Congress with a substantial role in shaping national legislation.
|John Spratt (D)||188,785||(62%)||($829,176)|
|Albert Spencer (R)||113,282||(37%)||($9,590)|
|John Spratt (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (57%), 2004 (63%), 2002 (86%), 2000 (59%), 1998 (58%), 1996 (54%), 1994 (52%), 1992 (61%), 1990 (100%), 1988 (70%), 1986 (100%), 1984 (92%), 1982 (68%)
Spratt is the second-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. In the 1980s, he worked with Chairman Les Aspin, D-Wis., and, in his thick Carolina accent and with impressive knowledge of details, stitched together compromises on the MX missile, binary nerve gas weapons, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the Savannah River Site. He kept military projects flowing through the House, when many members were looking to cut military spending. In the late 1990s, Spratt was the House Democrats’ lead man for limits on missile defense. His amendment on the subject prevailed in February 1995 by 218-212, the first significant defeat of a Contract with America promise in the Republican House.
On the Iraq War resolution, Spratt played a key role for Democrats. In September 2002, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt turned to Spratt and Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on Armed Services, for help in drafting an alternative to the broad White House resolution authorizing the use of force. Spratt sought another round of weapons inspections and suggested removing a phrase authorizing any action to ensure peace and security in the region. The administration agreed to delete the phrase. When Gephardt went to the White House and agreed on a resolution, Spratt continued to prepare a Democratic alternative, working with Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi of California. He saw “no need to invoke preemptive intervention or to draw a tenuous connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda.” His resolution authorized military action if the United Nations approved, and left room for the administration to seek another resolution from Congress if the U.N. did not approve. His alternative was defeated 270-155; Democrats favored it 147-60 but Republicans opposed it 210-8. Spratt then joined the majority voting for the resolution sponsored by the administration and Gephardt, which passed 296-133.
After the 2002 election, Gephardt stepped down, and Pelosi was elected minority leader. One of her first acts was to appoint Spratt assistant to the leader and name him her designee on budget issues. Spratt in turn agreed to be a team player, and Pelosi, as a liberal, could argue that Democratic budget policy was being driven by a member with a deserved reputation as a moderate.
Spratt has long been immersed in the budget process. He played a major role in putting together the May 1997 agreement between Democrats and the then new ruling majority Republicans to reach a balanced budget. It required, he said, “Some stiff, tough bargaining. As a matter of process, it was a major accomplishment.” But the bipartisanship of that period did not continue, and Spratt was often in the position of offering Democratic budget alternatives that were routinely defeated on party lines. After the September 11 attacks, he issued a report predicting, accurately, that the budget surplus would disappear in 2002 and quite possibly for several years. In 2002, he called for negotiations like those that produced the 1997 budget agreement or the 1990 budget summit in which Bush’s father agreed to break his promise and raise taxes. “He can take a page from his father’s experience and hope it doesn’t cost him what it cost his dad. But his dad did the right thing,” Spratt said then. But the Republicans once again passed a budget resolution along party lines. Spratt blamed subsequent deficits on the 2001 Bush tax cuts, but did not urge their repeal.
In 2005, Spratt complained that Congressional Budget Office forecasts of the deficit were unduly optimistic because they did not include all of the costs of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The following year, as the majority Republicans continued to dominate the budget proceedings, he argued that while the administration’s approach of restraining domestic discretionary spending and waiting for a surge in revenues might shrink deficits in the short term, it would be inadequate for long-range fiscal challenges. “This is not a cyclical deficit. It’s a structural deficit built into our budget,” he said.
After Democrats won majorities in both houses in 2006, he and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., called for a more realistic statement of war costs in the administration’s budget. He complained that the administration was counting on vastly increased revenues from the Alternative Minimum Tax, assuming that the 4.2 million taxpayers hit by the AMT, without the one-year patch that had become routine, would balloon to 23 million—concentrated in high-income, high-tax states which vote heavily Democratic. Then came the hard work, unnecessary when he was in the minority, of assembling 218 votes for the Democratic budget. “If you can’t budget, you can’t govern,” Spratt is fond of saying. His Democratic budget resolution that passed the House in 2007 assumed that the middle-class would get relief from the AMT, which was designed to tax the wealthy but had been ensnaring an increasing number of middle-income taxpayers. It included the administration’s estimate of the cost of the war in Iraq in 2009 at $50 billion. It assumed also that all the Bush tax cuts would stay in place until 2010 and then might disappear, prompting Republicans to label it the “biggest tax increase in American history.” After an extended battle with the Senate, Spratt and other House Democrats in late 2007 abandoned their campaign to “pay for” relief from the AMT extension with tax hikes elsewhere.
In the largely uneventful 2008 budget debate, Spratt sought to focus attention on how the federal debt had increased while Bush was president from $5.7 trillion to the eventual $10.6 trillion when he left office. “Mr. Bush came into office with the biggest surpluses in history and will leave with the biggest deficits in history. That is the bottom line,” he said. Spratt has opposed calls for an entitlement commission to come up with solutions to future shortages in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security on the grounds that previous such efforts have had little or no effect.
Spratt played a vital role in the early months of the Obama administration. Pelosi’s “maestro of the budget” sought a wider stage as he urged Obama to “get a quick start” and “keep his eye on the prize,” which for Spratt was chiefly the domestic economy. He cooperated with other senior House Democrats to shape the contents of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, which was enacted in February 2009. In the subsequent budget debate, Spratt worked with the Obama team as they sought to emphasize the positive aspects of reducing the budget deficit from a projected $1.2 trillion in 2010 to $523 billion in 2014, still higher than any in the nation’s history. He was mostly successful in personally selling the budget to the conservative Blue Dog Democrats.
On other issues, Spratt has a moderate record, which is a bit more to the left on economic issues. He voted for the North America Free Trade Agreement in 1993 but opposed the Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2005. He won an amendment in the 2006 defense bill providing free life insurance for all troops in combat. In early 2007, he was among the first Democrats who urged increased attention to Afghanistan, which he called “the forgotten war.” In recent years, he won passage of a bill setting up a study of Revolutionary War sites in the Upstate of South Carolina to be included in a Southern Campaign of the Revolution Heritage Area. He also passed a bipartisan bill prohibiting the slaughter of horses for human consumption, whose markets for horse meat were primarily in France and Belgium.
Spratt has had two tough races, in 1994 and 1996, when he won by margins of 52%-48% and 54%-45%, respectively. From 1998 to 2004, he was re-elected by wide margins. In 2006, Republicans targeted Spratt, recruiting Rock Hill state Rep. Ralph Norman, a residential and commercial real estate developer. Vice President Dick Cheney, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, and Gov. Mark Sanford all campaigned for Norman. Spratt responded with an ad claiming Norman had been cited for hiring illegal immigrants. In mid-October national Republicans, in trouble in races across the country and worried about protecting GOP incumbents, quit pouring money into Norman’s campaign. Spratt outspent him nearly 2-to-1 and won 57%-43%, a solid margin, but the closest race he had encountered since 1996, despite the national Democratic trend. In 2008, Spratt was re-elected easily.
Apparently secure in his district and with Pelosi, Spratt is positioned to resume his attention to military issues and take over as Armed Services Committee chairman if Skelton retires, possibly after redistricting in 2012.