CONGRESS - Epitaph for an Era

Jan. 14, 1995, 7 a.m.

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.

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