Democrats went down swinging on Capitol Hill last year. On most major issues, President Clinton and his party in Congress accentuated their differences with congressional Republicans in 1994.
In the end, what happened on the House and Senate floors last year proved far less significant than what happened at the polls in November. But an analysis of last year’s key congressional votes provides an apt epitaph for the 40-year era in which Democrats controlled at least one of the two chambers: The votes revealed striking differences between the two parties on most issues and notable regional disparities within each party. The sharp partisan splits also help to explain why so little major legislation was enacted.
The polarization was across the board, according to National Journal’s annual congressional vote ratings, but it was especially dramatic between the two parties on economic issues. In the Senate, the 56 Democrats had average liberal scores of 68 on economic and foreign policy issues and 67 on social issues (on a percentile scale of 0-99). The 44 Republicans had average conservative ratings of 75 on economic issues, 71 on social issues and 74 on foreign policy issues.
Only three Republicans—John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon and James M. Jeffords of Vermont—had composite scores (across all three issue categories) that placed them in the more liberal half of the Senate. The most conservative Senate Democrat in the 103rd Congress, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, switched to the GOP on the day after the election. Two other Democrats were in the more conservative half of the Senate in each of the three issue areas: Howell T. Heflin of Alabama and Sam Nunn of Georgia.
Partisan divisions were also sharp in the House. Constance A. Morella of Maryland was the only Republican whose composite score ranked her in the more liberal half of the House. Of the 19 Democrats who fell in the more conservative half of the House in each issue area, all but 4 were from the South.
That helps to explain why southern Democrats in the House, as a group, were considerably more conservative than their other party colleagues. The disparity was most evident on social issues. For the House’s eastern Republicans, social issues legislation—on crime, school prayer and immigration, for example- -produced their party’s most liberal scores for a region.
Western Republicans edged out southern Republicans as the most conservative group in the House; eastern Democrats narrowly led western Democrats for the mantle of the most liberal. In the Senate, Republicans from the South and Democrats from the East were at the ideological borders.
Those trends are likely to continue and may become more apparent in the 104th Congress, which convened on Jan. 4. A disproportionate share of the 67 departed House Democrats—the retirees as well as those who were defeated for reelection—were from their party’s more conservative wing. Only 7 of the 28 Democratic retirees and 3 of the 34 Members who lost their seats on Nov. 8 ranked among the 100 most liberal lawmakers (all of them Democrats) in 1994.
Likewise, the 21 departed House Republicans were chiefly from their party’s center, rather than its right flank. The same pattern prevailed in the Senate, where 6 of the 11 Senators who retired or lost reelection bids ranked among the centrist third of that body.
The recent change in party leaders in the House and Senate mirrors the growing polarization in each chamber. Of the top five House Republican leaders, three of them—Majority Leader Richard K. Armey of Texas, Majority Whip Tom D. DeLay of Texas, and campaign committee chairman Bill Paxon of New York—were among the 23 Members (all Republicans) who had perfect conservative scores in last year’s ratings, and Conference chairman John Boehner of Ohio narrowly missed that mark. Only Newt Gingrich of Georgia, the new Speaker, fell short of the conservative end in his foreign policy rating.
As for the top two House Democrats, both Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Minority Whip David E. Bonior of Michigan were in the most liberal fourth of their party’s ranks, with each receiving perfect liberal scores on economic issues.
Trent Lott of Mississippi, who defeated Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming for majority whip, joined new Majority Leader Robert Dole of Kansas among the 12 most conservative Senators last year; Simpson ranked slightly to the left of his party’s center. By contrast, the scores of Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota, the new Democratic leader in the Senate, were slightly less liberal than those of Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., whom Daschle defeated, and of George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, the party’s departed leader.
Those are some of the highlights of the 1994 vote ratings. The scores, which have been compiled annually since 1981, were based on 96 key roll-call votes- -48 in the Senate and 48 in the House. After a panel of National Journal reporters and editors selected the key votes, a computer-assisted tabulation ranked Members from the most conservative to the most liberal in each of the three categories: economic, social and foreign policy.
The scores show where each Member stood last year in relation to his or her Senate or House colleagues. Unlike many other congressional ratings, they are not determined by a percentage of ”correct” liberal or conservative positions on key votes.
Gingrich, for example, had a liberal score of 25 and a conservative score of 71 on foreign policy and national security issues. That means he was more liberal on such issues than 25 per cent of House Members, more conservative than 71 per cent of his colleagues and tied with the remaining 4 per cent. (For a fuller description of the ratings system, see box, p. 86. For a description of the 96 key roll-call votes on which the ratings are based, see pp. 87-89. Senate and House Members’ scores are listed in tables beginning on p. 90.)
By providing separate scores for each issue area, the ratings display the differences in Members’ voting patterns in each of the categories. Although two Members might have similar composite scores when the three ratings are combined , they often differ noticeably when the numbers are examined more closely. (For an explanation of the composite scores, and a list of Congress’s most liberal and conservative Members in 1994, see box, this page.)
At the center of the Senate’s 1994 combined composite ratings, for example, were Republican Chafee and Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C. Chafee had a liberal rating of 52 in the composite scores and Hollings had a 51. But Hollings was more liberal on economic issues, Chafee was more liberal on social issues and the two were nearly the same on foreign policy:
Economic Social Foreign
Hollings 52 48 50
Chafee 35 74 45
In the new Republican Congress, the center of gravity in each chamber is sure to shift. But the prospect is that the vote ratings of individual Members relative to their legislative colleagues will remain roughly the same. HOUSE RATINGS
California’s delegation was home to the greatest ideological diversity within the House last year. Five of the 23 House Members (all Republicans) who had perfect conservative scores in 1994 were Californians, as were 4 of the 17 Members (all Democrats) who had perfect liberal scores. In California, as in other states, there was no safety in the middle. The Californian closest to the House’s voting center was Democrat Richard H. Lehman; he was decisively defeated for reelection.
Nine of the 23 all-conservative scores were compiled by southern Republicans , while 6 of the 17 all-liberal scorers were midwestern Democrats. Of the 23 conservatives, 4 were on the the perfect list in 1993: Armey, DeLay and Sam Johnson of Texas and Robert K. Dornan of California. Liberal repeaters were Don Edwards of California, Patsy T. Mink of Hawaii, Major R. Owens of New York, Bobby L. Rush of Illinois and Bruce F. Vento of Minnesota.
The most liberal Members—all Democrats—were notable for their racial and gender diversity. Among the 17 with perfect liberal scores were 7 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, 2 Hispanic-Americans and 4 women. Of the seven white males, Edwards and William D. Ford of Michigan have retired and Dan Hamburg of California was defeated in November.
The President’s impact on the vote ratings is apparent when his 1992 vote by House district is examined side by side with Democrats’ scores in 1994. The 117 House Democrats in whose districts Clinton received less than 45 per cent of the vote had an average composite liberal rating of 60. By contrast, the 64 Democrats whose constituents gave Clinton at least 55 per cent of their vote in 1992 had an average composite liberal rating of 77.
Regionally, diversity was greater than usual. Eastern Democrats had the most -liberal scores on economic and foreign policy issues, and western Democrats led on social issues. Among House Republicans, midwesterners had the highest conservative ratings on economic issues, southerners on social issues and westerners on foreign policy.
Democrats with conservative leanings were predominantly from the South—24 of the 32 in this category, in fact. Five of the other eight were from the Midwest. Eight of the 32 aren’t back this year: 4 of them retired, 2 were turned out of office by voters and 2 lost bids for the Senate. The remaining 24 will be a prime target of Republican blandishments for bipartisanship this year.
At the other end of the ideological spectrum, 13 southerners were among the House Democrats whose scores were at the liberal end of their party’s ratings (12 of those southerners were black; the lone white, Mike Synar of Oklahoma, lost in the primary). Of the 15 Republicans with the most-liberal scores, all were from the Midwest or the East, including 5 from New York.
No Democrat in the House had a perfect conservative score in any of the three issue categories. Likewise, no House Republican had a perfect liberal rating in any category. The same was true in the Senate. SENATE RATINGS
For Senate Republicans, party cohesion, largely free of the regional differences of past years, was the dominant factor in 1994. The five perfect conservative scorers last year came from all parts of the country—two from Idaho, two from North Carolina and one from New Hampshire. Dole, who missed a perfect conservative rating by a single foreign policy vote, filled out the regional picture from the Midwest. Jesse A. Helms, R-N.C., and Robert C. Smith, R-N.H., were the only Senators to repeat their 1993 record of ideological purity.
The South was a bastion of conservatism last year. The 10 Republicans from the region had average conservative ratings of 78 on economic issues, 80 on social issues and 86 on foreign policy. Even southern Democrats, as a group, leaned slightly conservative on social issues. But that didn’t help Jim Sasser, D-Tenn., who lost his bid for reelection despite a conservative score of 60 on social issues (in 1992, by comparison, his social issues conservative rating was 36).
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., were the only Senators with perfect liberal scores in 1994. Eastern Democrats held 5 of the top 11 positions on the liberal end of the Senate scale. In that region, only Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut had a conservative-leaning score in any of the issue categories.
Minority Leader Daschle faces a potential management problem this year because several ranking committee Democrats have conservative voting records, particularly on social issues. The list includes Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia at Appropriations, J.J. Exon of Nebraska at Budget, Hollings at Commerce, Science and Transportation, J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana at Energy and Natural Resources and Nunn at Armed Services. And Wendell H. Ford of Kentucky, the holdover Democratic whip, also ranked near the Senate’s center.
At the other end of the scale, Dole must contend with liberal-leaning chairmen. New Republican chairmen who had at least one liberal-leaning score in 1994 were Chafee at Environment and Public Works, Hatfield at Appropriations and Bob Packwood of Oregon at Finance.
Many of those voting patterns may persist in the 104th Congress. But with a new party in control of Congress and 98 new Senators and House Members on board , don’t bet on it.