After waiting 40 years to take control of Congress, Republicans displayed a distinctly conservative voting pattern in 1995. Especially on economic issues, the Republicans’ ability in the House to set the agenda produced a remarkable degree of cohesion on their side of the aisle and barely a trace of bipartisanship.
In a year when floor debate was dominated by the House Republicans’ Contract With America along with the GOP’s attempt to balance the federal budget, the extent of the polarization was shown by the fact that 115 House Republicans voted in unison on all 22 key economic votes, according to National Journal’s annual congressional vote ratings. Only three Democrats ranked in the more-conservative half of the House on those economic issues.
Partisan solidarity on economic votes also prevailed in the Senate, where none of the 46 Democrats fell into the more- conservative half. On social and foreign policy issues, by contrast, that solidarity was broken; the conservative half of the Senate included five Democrats on social issues and three on foreign policy—all but one of them from the South.
Only two Senate Republicans—John H. Chafee of Rhode Island and James M. Jeffords of Vermont—were in the liberal half of the Senate in all three issue areas. Among Republicans, Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon had the highest composite liberal score (across all three issue categories), but that was chiefly because of his near-perfect liberal score on foreign policy. Howell T. Heflin of Alabama was the only Democrat with a composite score that put him in the conservative half of the Senate. Like Hatfield’s, Heflin’s scores placed him comfortably among the centrist third of the Senate.
In the House, only five Republicans, all from the East, had liberal scores above 50 in each issue area. The most liberal of the five was Constance A. Morella of Maryland. Ralph M. Hall of Texas, the Democrat with the most conservative scores, defined the other end of the House’s center. He was joined by four other Democrats with conservative composite scores, three of whom have announced that they are retiring at the end of this year. All five are from the South.
In the House, regional policy divisions were most sharply defined in the West; as a group, the region’s 53 Republicans were the House’s most conservative, and the 40 Western Democrats were the House’s most liberal Members. In the Senate, on the other hand, the most conservative Republicans were the 13 from the South, while the most liberal Democrats were the 12 from the East.
The Republican takeover of the House gave a strongly conservative cast to the party’s leadership. Majority Leader Richard K. Armey of Texas, Majority Whip Tom D. DeLay of Texas and Policy Committee chairman C. Christopher Cox were among the 28 Republicans with perfect conservative scores last year. Not far behind were Republican Conference chairman John Boehner of Ohio and campaign committee chairman Bill Paxon of New York.
House Democratic leaders fell short of the most liberal end of the ideological spectrum. Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Minority Whip David E. Bonior of Michigan each ranked only slightly to the left of the party’s center.
The ratings underscore the fact that the wave of Members retiring this year includes a disproportionate share of centrists, especially in the Senate. Among the 20 Senators who ranked in the middle ideologically in 1995, are 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans who are stepping down.
These are some of the s of the 1995 vote ratings. The scores, which have been compiled annually since 1981, were based on 103 key roll-call votes, 51 in the Senate and 52 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 issue 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.
Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., for example, had a conservative score of 74 and a liberal score of 21 on economic issues. That means that he was more conservative on such issues than 74 per cent of his colleagues, more liberal than 21 per cent of Senators and tied with the remaining 5 per cent. (For a fuller description of the ratings system, see box, p. 182. For a description of the 103 key roll-call votes on which the ratings are based, see pp. 183-85. Senate and House Members’ scores are listed in tables beginning on p. 186.)
By providing separate scores for each of the three issue areas, the ratings display the differences in Members’ voting patterns in each category. Although two Members might have similar composite scores when the three ratings are combined, they often differ markedly when the numbers are examined by issue area At the center of the Senate’s 1995 combined composite ratings, for example, were Republicans Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, each with a composite score of almost precisely 50. But, as the following scores on the conservative scale show, Kassebaum was more conservative on economic issues, Snowe was more conservative on foreign issues and the two were closer on social policy:
Economic Social Foreign Kassebaum 60 43 44 Snowe 50 37 57 Because the ratings are based on Members’ standing in relation to their colleagues, many Members may have a more-liberal score in 1995 than they had in 1994 even though their views did not noticeably change. That’s because the elections increased the share of more-conservative Members in each chamber against whom returning Members were scored. A House Democrat who stood at the midpoint of his or her party’s ratings in 1994, for example, would have found 128 fellow Democrats to his or her left; in 1995, there were only 99 Democrats to the left of the party’s center. (For an explanation of the composite scores, and a list of Congress’s most conservative and liberal Members in 1995, see box, p. 181.) HOUSE RATINGS
Conservative Republicans’ cohesiveness on key House votes ran across the board. The fact that nearly half the House Republicans had identical (and perfectly conservative) scores on the 22 economic votes was only one example of the Republicans’ harmony. Those 22 votes included most of the votes on final passage of the parts of the Contract With America, along with other key votes selected to spotlight differences between Members.
On social issues, 90 Republicans voted in unison, as did 64 Republicans on foreign policy-national security issues. As for the Democrats, 27 cast a straight liberal vote on economic issues, 54 did the same on social issues and 30 on foreign policy. No House Republican had a perfect liberal score in any of the three issue categories, nor did any Democrat have a perfect conservative rating in any category; the same was true in the Senate.
Of the 28 Republicans who had perfect conservative scores in all three issue areas, 7 were from California and 6 from Texas. Only 4 were from the Midwest (including 3 from Missouri) and only 2 from the East. Of the 23 on that list who are not first-termers, 10 also had perfect conservative records in 1994.
Economic and social liberal scores for eastern Republicans were more than double those for Republicans in any other region; on foreign policy issues, however, Republicans from the Midwest scored slightly more-liberal than their party colleagues from the East. Among House Democrats, southerners averaged a few points more-conservative on economic and foreign policy votes, but midwesterners had a slight conservative edge on social policy votes.
Over all, differences between the two parties were widest on economic issues and narrowest on social policy.
Some aspects of the House ratings did not change significantly from past years. The scores of the 73 first-term Republicans, perhaps surprisingly, were spread evenly across their party’s ideological spectrum. Five freshmen were among the 28 Republicans with perfect conservative scores, and three others were among the 22 Republicans whose composite scores placed them in the liberal half of the House. Of the 10 freshmen with the least-conservative scores, 7 were from the East, including 3 from New Jersey.
The 9 Members (all Democrats) who voted consistently liberal included 7 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and two Californians; the only repeater from 1994 was Cardiss Collins of Illinois. Of the 20 southerners whose composite ratings placed them among the 100 most-liberal Democrats, 16 were black or Hispanic.
An intriguing aspect of the ratings is how the 1995 scores relate to the votes Members received the previous Election Day. Among Democrats, the 82 Members who won election with at least 65 per cent of the vote had an average composite liberal score of 80; of the 44 Democrats who won with less than 55 per cent of the vote, the comparable average was 72. What this suggests, of course, is that Members who were worried about their reelection prospects this year voted more-conservative last year than their less nervous colleagues. Among Republicans, however, the 128 who won election with more than 65 per cent of the vote and the 47 who won with less than 55 per cent had the same average composite liberal score of 29.
Excluding Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who, in accordance with tradition, rarely votes, 235 House Republicans cast votes in 1995. That number includes five southerners who started the year as Democrats; for vote rating purposes, they were considered to be Republicans for all of 1995. Each of the party switchers ranked in the GOP’s less-conservative half, and one of them, James A. Hayes of Louisiana, tilted slightly toward the liberal half of the House.
Of the 199 House Democrats who received ratings, 3 of them—Norman Y. Mineta of California, Mel Reynolds of Illinois and Walter R. Tucker III of California—resigned in the final quarter of the year . Each was included in the ratings when he participated in at least half of the votes in an issue area. SENATE RATINGS
Although the results for Senate Republicans were less consistent than for their House counterparts, the partisan patterns were similar.
The only perfect conservative rating was for Robert C. Smith, R-N.H., who also had perfect scores in 1993 and 1994. Of the 19 other most conservative Senators, 10 were from the South. As in the past, southern Republicans were their party’s most conservative group by a substantial margin, especially on social and foreign policy issues.
Of the five Republican Senators with composite scores in the liberal half of the Senate, all but Hatfield are easterners. Not surprisingly, the East was also the GOP’s most liberal region, especially on social issues.
Of the 11 newly elected Senators (all Republicans), 8 were in the conservative half of their party’s ranks. Snowe was the only freshman with a score in the liberal half of the Senate in any issue area. Of the two Senators who switched parties after the 1994 elections, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado was among the most liberal Republicans and Richard C. Shelby of Alabama was among the most conservative.
The Senate chairmen with prime responsibility for budget issues were among the least conservative Republicans. Appropriations Committee chairman Hatfield had the most liberal composite score among Republicans. The ratings for Budget chairman Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico and Finance chairman William V. Roth Jr. of Delaware put them in the least- conservative fourth of Senate Republicans; Roth’s score was almost the same as that of his predecessor, Bob Packwood of Oregon, who resigned in October.
No Democrat had a perfect liberal rating last year. Patrick J. Leahy came closest, with one conservative vote on foreign policy; in 1994, he was one of two Democrats with an all- liberal score. Of the 20 most liberal Democrats, 8 were from the East and 7 from the Midwest; also in that group were 2 southerners, Dale Bumpers and David Pryor of Arkansas, each of whom had perfect liberal scores on foreign policy.
Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who had a strongly conservative score on foreign policy, and Harry M. Reid of Nevada, who leaned to the conservatives on social issues, were the only nonsouthern Democrats in the conservative half of the Senate in any of the three issue areas. Of the six Democrats with the most-conservative composite scores, all but J.J. Exon of Nebraska are from the South, and all but Wendell H. Ford of Kentucky and Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina are retiring.
Phil Gramm of Texas had the most conservative record in 1995 of the Senators seeking the Republican presidential nomination; Gramm had perfect conservative ratings on economic and social policy. Dole’s composite score leaned slightly toward the conservative side of Senate Republicans; in 1994, he fell one vote short of a perfectly conservative score. Dole’s economic score would have been more conservative but for his vote, strictly on procedural grounds, to oppose the balanced budget constitutional amendment in March.
Among the other presidential wanna-bes, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana leaned slightly toward the liberal wing of his party. The scores of Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who has suspended his campaign, fell almost precisely in the center of the Senate, which may explain why his views did not excite much interest in the Republican electorate. On the other hand, Rep. Robert K. Dornan of California, despite his perfect conservative House scores, has also failed to generate much support for his bid.
Among Senate Democrats, there was a curious connection between their ratings and their most recent margins of victory at the polls. The 29 Democrats who won with less than 60 per cent of the vote had a composite liberal rating of 78; the remaining 17, who were presumably more secure politically, had an average liberal score of 72. The Republican pattern was more predictable: Those with the largest victory margins tended to be those with the most-conservative ratings.
For Members of both chambers, floor votes, of course, are not the sole guide to their influence in Washington or to their political health at home. But the recent volatility in the political system has shown that there can be a connection. Descriptions of key votes follow on pp. 183-85. Senate scores are on pp. 186-87. House scores are on pp. 188-201.