CONGRESS - Soft Center

Dec. 14, 1996, 7 a.m.

The le­gis­lat­ive agenda and the le­gis­lat­ive out­put moved to­ward the polit­ic­al cen­ter this year. But the vot­ing pat­terns were as strongly par­tis­an as ever.

Com­prom­ise be­came the pre­dom­in­ant mo­tif as party lead­ers and most Mem­bers of Con­gress de­cided that they needed to show the voters be­fore the Novem­ber elec­tions that they could en­act pop­u­lar meas­ures. Nev­er­the­less, law­makers’ over-all vot­ing pat­terns this year wer­en’t too dif­fer­ent from those in the highly con­ten­tious 1995 ses­sion, ac­cord­ing to Na­tion­al Journ­al’s an­nu­al con­gres­sion­al vote rat­ings.

In both the House and the Sen­ate, Mem­bers di­vided mostly along party lines, an ana­lys­is of their vote rat­ings re­veals. This was es­pe­cially true on eco­nom­ic is­sues, where only a hand­ful of Re­pub­lic­ans had rat­ings that were more lib­er­al than those of the most con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats. In neither cham­ber did a single Re­pub­lic­an rank among the 40 per cent of Mem­bers at the lib­er­al end of the scale on eco­nom­ic is­sues. Like­wise, no Demo­crat in either cham­ber had an eco­nom­ic score that would have put him or her among the 40 per cent at the con­ser­vat­ive end of the scale.

On oth­er kinds of is­sues, the par­tis­an pat­terns were less clear-cut. In the House, in par­tic­u­lar, east­ern Re­pub­lic­ans leaned no­tice­ably to the left of their party col­leagues on so­cial is­sues and south­ern Demo­crats were more con­ser­vat­ive than oth­ers in their party on for­eign policy and na­tion­al se­cur­ity is­sues. A sim­il­ar soften­ing of par­tis­an­ship could be found among east­ern Re­pub­lic­ans and south­ern Demo­crats in the Sen­ate.

The vote rat­ings point up some in­ter­est­ing con­trasts with the lock­step pat­tern that of­ten pre­vailed in 1995, when the House GOP’s Con­tract With Amer­ica dom­in­ated the de­bate. There was, for ex­ample, less po­lar­iz­a­tion among House Re­pub­lic­ans this year than last, when 115 of the 235 House Re­pub­lic­ans voted in uni­son on all 22 key eco­nom­ic votes; this year, only 79 House Re­pub­lic­ans voted to­geth­er on every key eco­nom­ic roll call.

But the move to­ward the polit­ic­al cen­ter this year provided little com­fort or be­ne­fit to the year’s biggest polit­ic­al losers. Of the 18 House Re­pub­lic­ans who were de­feated for reelec­tion, 12 had com­pos­ite rat­ings for all three is­sue areas (eco­nom­ic, so­cial and for­eign policy) that placed them among the least con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans; 7 of the 12, in turn, ranked fur­ther left along the House’s ideo­lo­gic­al spec­trum than they did a year earli­er.

The de­par­ture of Mem­bers who didn’t seek reelec­tion this year ap­pears likely to en­large the par­tis­an di­vide. In the Sen­ate, all five re­tir­ing Re­pub­lic­ans ranked among the most lib­er­al third of their party. And of the six Demo­crats ranked in the more con­ser­vat­ive half of the House, three are re­tir­ing.

Those are some of the high­lights of the 1996 vote rat­ings. The scores, which have been com­piled an­nu­ally since 1981, were based on 103 key roll-call votes, 47 in the Sen­ate and 56 in the House. Fol­low­ing the se­lec­tion of the key votes by a pan­el of Na­tion­al Journ­al re­port­ers and ed­it­ors, a com­puter- as­sisted tab­u­la­tion ranked Mem­bers from most con­ser­vat­ive to most lib­er­al in each of the three is­sue cat­egor­ies.

The scores show where each Mem­ber stood in 1996 re­l­at­ive to his or her Sen­ate or House col­leagues. They are not struc­tured like many oth­er con­gres­sion­al vote rat­ings, which are de­term­ined by a per­cent­age of ”cor­rect” lib­er­al or con­ser­vat­ive po­s­i­tions on key is­sues.

Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., for ex­ample, had a lib­er­al score of 70 and a con­ser­vat­ive score of 27 on eco­nom­ic is­sues. That means that he was more lib­er­al on such is­sues than 70 per cent of his Sen­ate col­leagues, more con­ser­vat­ive than 27 per cent of his col­leagues and tied with the re­main­ing 2 per cent. (For a fuller de­scrip­tion of the rat­ings sys­tem, see box, p. 2684. For a de­scrip­tion of the 103 key roll- call votes on which the rat­ings are based, see pp. 2685-87. Sen­ate and House Mem­bers’ scores are lis­ted in tables be­gin­ning on p. 2688.)

By provid­ing sep­ar­ate scores for 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, their scores in each is­sue area of­ten dif­fer markedly.

In the 1996 rat­ings, for ex­ample, Ben­jamin A. Gil­man of New York, the chair­man of the In­ter­na­tion­al Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee, and Lee H. Hamilton of In­di­ana, the pan­el’s rank­ing Demo­crat, had com­pos­ite scores that placed each near the mid­point of the House. But, as the fol­low­ing scores on the con­ser­vat­ive scale show, Hamilton was more con­ser­vat­ive on so­cial is­sues, Gil­man was more con­ser­vat­ive on for­eign policy is­sues and the two had nearly identic­al scores on eco­nom­ic policy.

Eco­nom­ic So­cial For­eign Gil­man 45 29 72 Hamilton 43 58 40

Many Mem­bers may have cast a great­er share of ”lib­er­al” votes this year than they did in 1995, but their vote rat­ings wer­en’t ne­ces­sar­ily any more lib­er­al. That’s be­cause the rat­ings are based on Mem­bers’ stand­ing in re­la­tion to their col­leagues, and both the House and the Sen­ate moved some­what to the left this year, es­pe­cially on such eco­nom­ic is­sues as health care re­form and a min­im­um-wage in­crease. In any case, House and Sen­ate mem­ber­ship did not change much from 1995 to 1996; there­fore, Mem­bers were com­pared with vir­tu­ally the same col­leagues this year as last. (For an ex­plan­a­tion of the com­pos­ite scores, and a list of Con­gress’s most-con­ser­vat­ive and lib­er­al Mem­bers in 1996, see box, p. 2683.) HOUSE RAT­INGS

In the House, south­ern Re­pub­lic­ans and west­ern Demo­crats set the ideo­lo­gic­al ex­tremes. As a group, the GOP’s south­ern­ers had the most con­ser­vat­ive av­er­age scores on so­cial and for­eign policy is­sues; on eco­nom­ic is­sues, west­ern Re­pub­lic­ans as a group were slightly more con­ser­vat­ive than the south­ern­ers. In each cat­egory, west­ern Demo­crats had the most lib­er­al av­er­age re­gion­al scores.

Among Re­pub­lic­ans, the party’s re­gion­al schism was most evid­ent on so­cial is­sues, where the av­er­age lib­er­al score for the east­ern­ers was 47, nearly at the mid­point for the House, and the score for south­ern­ers was 17. On for­eign policy, the east­ern Re­pub­lic­ans’ av­er­age score of 33 was closer to the party’s over- all rat­ing on that is­sue than their av­er­age eco­nom­ic and so­cial scores were to the GOP’s over-all scores in those is­sue areas.

These pat­terns were mirrored by in­di­vidu­al Re­pub­lic­ans at the ends of the philo­soph­ic­al spec­trum. Of the 14 Re­pub­lic­ans with per­fect con­ser­vat­ive scores in all three is­sue areas, 8 were from the South. The only re­peat­ers from 1995 in this cat­egory were two mem­bers of the party lead­er­ship: Ma­jor­ity Whip Tom D. DeLay of Texas and Policy Com­mit­tee chair­man C. Chris­toph­er Cox of Cali­for­nia. But the oth­er Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers also rated high on the con­ser­vat­ive scale. (For a re­port on the 1995 rat­ings, see NJ, 1/27/96, p. 179.)

At the oth­er end of the scale, of the eight Re­pub­lic­ans with lib­er­al-lean­ing scores in each of the three is­sue areas, six were from the East and two from the Mid­w­est. Con­stance A. Mo­rella of Mary­land, with a com­pos­ite lib­er­al score of 74, was the most lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­an. No House Re­pub­lic­an had a per­fect lib­er­al score in any is­sue area, nor did any Demo­crat have a per­fect con­ser­vat­ive rat­ing in any cat­egory (the same was true in the Sen­ate).

Among House Demo­crats, the av­er­age con­ser­vat­ive scores for south­ern Mem­bers were sev­er­al points high­er on eco­nom­ic and for­eign policy is­sues than those for Mem­bers from any oth­er re­gion. But mid­west­ern Demo­crats edged out their south­ern col­leagues for the most con­ser­vat­ive re­gion­al rat­ing on so­cial is­sues.

The 19 Demo­crats with per­fect lib­er­al scores in­cluded six from Cali­for­nia and five from New York. Also in that group were nine mem­bers of the Con­gres­sion­al Black Caucus. There were four re­peat­ers from last year’s list of those with per­fect lib­er­al scores.

All six Demo­crats whose com­pos­ite scores leaned con­ser­vat­ive were from the South. Ral­ph M. Hall of Texas was the most con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat, with a com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score of 65. Like the GOP’s Mo­rella, Hall was also the Mem­ber most out of step with his party in 1995.

Un­like their Re­pub­lic­an coun­ter­parts, Demo­crat­ic lead­ers had scores that fell in the cen­ter of their party’s rat­ings. With a com­pos­ite lib­er­al score of 76, Minor­ity Lead­er Richard A. Geph­ardt, D-Mo., was at vir­tu­ally the mid­point of the rat­ings for all House Demo­crats.

Re­pub­lic­an Gil­man of New York had a com­pos­ite score— 50.0—that placed him pre­cisely at the cen­ter of the House. Slightly above and be­low the cen­ter were sev­er­al oth­er mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans: Rod­ney Frel­inghuysen of New Jer­sey, Fred Up­ton of Michigan, Steve Horn of Cali­for­nia and Jon D. Fox of Pennsylvania. SEN­ATE RAT­INGS

The par­tis­an lines in the Sen­ate, were, if any­thing, more vis­ible than in the House. Not a single Demo­crat fell among the 40 per cent of the Sen­ate ranked as most con­ser­vat­ive in any of the three is­sue areas. And only two Re­pub­lic­ans placed among the 40 most lib­er­al Sen­at­ors on so­cial and for­eign policy.

Of the 50 Sen­at­ors whose com­pos­ite scores put them in the con­ser­vat­ive half of the cham­ber, only one—John B. Br­eaux of Louisi­ana—was a Demo­crat. In fact, Br­eaux’s score in each of the three is­sue areas, as well as his com­pos­ite score, was at the Sen­ate’s cen­ter. Br­eaux’s le­gis­lat­ive work has in­creas­ingly made him the Sen­ate’s man in the middle. Minor­ity Lead­er Daschle tapped Br­eaux to be the party’s chief deputy whip, and the Louisi­anan is also a con­fid­ant of Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Trent Lott of Mis­sis­sippi.

Three of the next four most-con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats are re­tir­ing: How­ell T. Heflin of Alabama, J. Ben­nett John­ston of Louisi­ana and Sam Nunn of Geor­gia. The oth­er Demo­crat whose com­pos­ite rat­ing put him at the Sen­ate’s cen­ter was Minor­ity Whip Wendell H. Ford of Ken­tucky.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans with com­pos­ite scores that leaned to­ward the lib­er­al side were James M. Jef­fords of Ver­mont, Mark O. Hat­field of Ore­gon, who is re­tir­ing, John H. Chafee of Rhode Is­land and Ar­len Specter of Pennsylvania. Jef­fords, who had the most lib­er­al over-all score in his party, was also the only Re­pub­lic­an who leaned lib­er­al in all three is­sue areas.

The Re­pub­lic­ans with the most con­ser­vat­ive re­cords fig­ure prom­in­ently in the party’s new lead­er­ship ranks. Among the top six were Con­fer­ence sec­ret­ary Paul Cover­dell of Geor­gia, Policy Com­mit­tee chair­man Larry E. Craig of Idaho and Ma­jor­ity Whip Don Nickles of Ok­lahoma. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Lott wasn’t far be­hind. Cover­dell and Nickles were also among the Sen­at­ors with per­fect con­ser­vat­ive scores, along with Phil Gramm of Texas and James M. In­hofe of Ok­lahoma. In­ter­est­ingly, Wil­li­am S. Co­hen, R-Maine, Pres­id­ent Clin­ton’s De­fense Sec­ret­ary-des­ig­nate, was more con­ser­vat­ive than 70 of his fel­low Sen­at­ors this year on for­eign policy is­sues.

Each of the dozen Re­pub­lic­ans with the most con­ser­vat­ive com­pos­ite scores was from the South or West. Robert Dole of Kan­sas—who resigned in June to pur­sue his pres­id­en­tial can­did­acy—and Sheila Frahm, his ap­poin­ted suc­cessor, would have placed among those most con­ser­vat­ive Sen­at­ors, but each failed to par­ti­cip­ate in a ma­jor­ity of votes in at least one cat­egory.

At the oth­er end of the Sen­ate spec­trum, no Demo­crat had per­fect lib­er­al scores in all three areas. Patty Mur­ray of Wash­ing­ton, who cast a single con­ser­vat­ive vote on so­cial policy, had the most lib­er­al com­pos­ite score. Of the 10 Sen­at­ors with the next most lib­er­al com­pos­ite scores, five were from the Mid­w­est, four from the East and one—Dale Bump­ers of Arkan­sas—from the South.

As a group, east­ern Demo­crats had the highest av­er­age lib­er­al score on eco­nom­ic and so­cial is­sues and nar­rowly trailed the party’s mid­west­ern­ers on for­eign policy votes. The widest re­gion­al splits between Sen­ate Demo­crats came on so­cial policy, where south­ern­ers had their highest av­er­age con­ser­vat­ive score.

Among Re­pub­lic­ans, south­ern­ers had the highest av­er­age con­ser­vat­ive rat­ing on eco­nom­ic and for­eign policy is­sues and nar­rowly trailed mid­west­ern Re­pub­lic­ans on so­cial is­sues. Re­pub­lic­ans from the East were the least con­ser­vat­ive in each area. In­tern­al Re­pub­lic­an dif­fer­ences were the greatest on eco­nom­ic is­sues and the slim­mest on for­eign policy.

The 105th Con­gress, which con­venes next month, is con­sti­tuted along lines sim­il­ar to those of the de­part­ing 104th. So it’s a good bet that the over-all pic­ture will be sim­il­ar next year. But the many new faces in each cham­ber make it likely that there’ll be con­sid­er­able change in the way in­di­vidu­al Mem­bers vote on spe­cif­ic bills. De­scrip­tions of key votes fol­low on pp. 2685-87. Sen­ate scores are on pp. 2688-89. House scores are on pp. 2690-99.

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