CONGRESS - A Shallow Bipartisanship

Feb. 2, 2002, 7 a.m.

After prom­ising dur­ing his cam­paign to change the tone in Wash­ing­ton, Pres­id­ent Bush took of­fice last Janu­ary hop­ing to re­duce the par­tis­an strife that had para­lyzed much of the Clin­ton era. Over the year that fol­lowed, Bush reg­u­larly won the sup­port of a hand­ful of Demo­crats in both the Sen­ate and the House, and he built a some­what broad­er bi­par­tis­an­ship for his two show­case pro­pos­als-tax cuts and edu­ca­tion re­form. Ef­forts at con­sensus-build­ing also en­joyed lim­ited suc­cess im­me­di­ately after the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

But over­all, Na­tion­al Journ­al’s an­nu­al con­gres­sion­al vote rat­ings for 2001 re­veal little change from pre­vi­ous vot­ing pat­terns. House mem­bers and Sen­at­ors con­tin­ued to vote pre­dom­in­antly along par­tis­an lines on most ma­jor is­sues.

In the Sen­ate, a cent­rist co­ali­tion was evid­ent last year, but it did not reach as deeply in­to either party as some have claimed. Con­sti­tut­ing the Sen­ate’s ideo­lo­gic­al cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to the vote rat­ings, were only six Re­pub­lic­ans, three Demo­crats, and one in­de­pend­ent-Sen. James M. Jef­fords of Ver­mont, whose de­cision last May to aban­don the GOP put the cham­ber un­der Demo­crat­ic con­trol. Even that lim­ited de­gree of bi­par­tis­an­ship was far-reach­ing when com­pared with pre­vi­ous years: In 2000, the rat­ings showed only two Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans whose av­er­age scores were more lib­er­al than those of any Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­or. And in 1999, all Demo­crats were on one side of the Sen­ate’s ideo­lo­gic­al di­vide, and all Re­pub­lic­ans were on the oth­er.

Vot­ing pat­terns changed even less in the House, where lead­ers con­tin­ued to en­cour­age a draw­ing of par­tis­an lines. The House mem­bers with the most-clear-cut cent­rist vot­ing pat­tern in­cluded roughly the same dozen “usu­al sus­pects” from each party as dur­ing the pre­vi­ous two years-not­ably, lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­an Reps. Con­stance A. Mo­rella of Mary­land and Jim Leach of Iowa, and con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat­ic Reps. Ken Lu­cas of Ken­tucky and Ral­ph M. Hall of Texas.

In both cham­bers, party lead­ers con­tin­ued to po­s­i­tion them­selves to­ward op­pos­ing ends of the ideo­lo­gic­al spec­trum. In the House, for in­stance, Ma­jor­ity Whip Tom DeLay of Texas was one of six Re­pub­lic­ans with per­fect con­ser­vat­ive scores. And Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal­if., who took over re­cently as the minor­ity whip, wasn’t far be­hind the House’s most-lib­er­al mem­bers. Sim­il­arly, in the Sen­ate, the vote rat­ings of Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., and Minor­ity Lead­er Trent Lott, R-Miss., ranked among their most-lib­er­al and most-con­ser­vat­ive col­leagues, re­spect­ively.

These are some of the high­lights of Na­tion­al Journ­al’s con­gres­sion­al vote rat­ings for 2001. The scores, which have been com­piled each year since 1981, show where law­makers rank re­l­at­ive to one an­oth­er in the Sen­ate and House on a con­ser­vat­ive-to-lib­er­al scale, based on their votes in each of three is­sue areas: eco­nom­ic, so­cial, and for­eign. The scores are de­term­ined by a com­puter-as­sisted cal­cu­la­tion that ranks mem­bers from one end of the spec­trum to the oth­er, based on key votes-42 in the Sen­ate and 57 in the House-that Na­tion­al Journ­al re­port­ers and ed­it­ors se­lec­ted.

For ex­ample, the res­ults show that on so­cial is­sues, Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., had a lib­er­al score of 33 and a con­ser­vat­ive score of 59. This means that he was more lib­er­al than 33 per­cent of oth­er Sen­at­ors on so­cial is­sues and more con­ser­vat­ive than 59 per­cent; he tied the re­main­ing 8 per­cent. On for­eign is­sues, Mc­Cain’s lib­er­al score was 7 and his con­ser­vat­ive score was 72, pla­cing him among the more-con­ser­vat­ive Sen­at­ors.

Sen­ate Rat­ings

The two Sen­at­ors with per­fect con­ser­vat­ive scores were Jesse Helms of North Car­o­lina and Strom Thur­mond of South Car­o­lina-two aging GOP icons whose in­flu­ence has di­min­ished in re­cent years be­cause of their health prob­lems. Both are re­tir­ing at the end of this year. Tim Hutchin­son of Arkan­sas-whose scores as the most-con­ser­vat­ive Sen­at­or in 2000 have made him the tar­get of Demo­crat­ic cri­ti­cism in his re-elec­tion bid this year-moved to­ward the cen­ter of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans last year. His com­pos­ite score left 26 oth­er Sen­at­ors with more-con­ser­vat­ive rat­ings.

A single Sen­at­or was at the oth­er end of the spec­trum, with per­fect lib­er­al scores: Demo­crat Paul Well­stone of Min­nesota, who this year faces a tough re-elec­tion chal­lenge in which his vot­ing re­cord will likely be an is­sue. In­ter­est­ingly, four of the next sev­en most-lib­er­al Sen­at­ors are newly elec­ted Demo­crats. They are Jon Corz­ine of New Jer­sey, who won an open seat, plus Maria Can­t­well of Wash­ing­ton, Mark Dayton of Min­nesota, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, each of whom de­feated a Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bent in Novem­ber 2000. Can­t­well, in par­tic­u­lar, had por­trayed her­self as a mod­er­ate “New Demo­crat” dur­ing her 2000 cam­paign.

Among the Sen­ate’s cent­rists, Jef­fords’s 2001 rat­ings changed little from his rat­ings in re­cent years. His scores were sand­wiched between those of Ar­len Specter of Pennsylvania and Lin­coln D. Chafee of Rhode Is­land, the two most-lib­er­al Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans. Specter was the only Re­pub­lic­an whose scores were in the lib­er­al half of the Sen­ate in each of the three is­sue areas. Only three Demo­crats were more con­ser­vat­ive than Jef­fords. They were Zell Miller of Geor­gia-the only Demo­crat to fall in­to the con­ser­vat­ive half of the Sen­ate in every is­sue area-plus John Br­eaux of Louisi­ana and Ben Nel­son of Neb­raska. Miller and Nel­son were first elec­ted in 2000.

The Sen­ate rat­ings also shed light on the per­form­ance of vari­ous past and pro­spect­ive pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates. Mc­Cain con­tin­ued his move to­ward the Sen­ate’s cen­ter, es­pe­cially on eco­nom­ic is­sues, as he did dur­ing his 2000 pres­id­en­tial bid. Joe Lieber­man of Con­necti­c­ut, the Demo­crats’ 2000 vice pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee, ranked to­ward the con­ser­vat­ive wing of Sen­ate Demo­crats, es­pe­cially on for­eign-policy is­sues. Among oth­er po­ten­tial Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial con­tenders for 2004, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and John F. Kerry of Mas­sachu­setts leaned to­ward the lib­er­al end of the Sen­ate, slightly ahead of Daschle, while John Ed­wards of North Car­o­lina was nearly tied with Lieber­man.

Mean­while, Sen­ate new­comer Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton ranked vir­tu­ally in the middle of the cham­ber’s Demo­crats. Her com­pos­ite lib­er­al score of 76 was near that of fel­low New York­er Charles E. Schu­mer.

On a re­gion­al basis, the 13 Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ors from the East had the most-lib­er­al av­er­age rat­ing, while the 13 Re­pub­lic­ans from the South were the most con­ser­vat­ive; the dif­fer­ences between those two groups were the strongest on eco­nom­ic is­sues. The nine South­ern Demo­crats and the nine East­ern Re­pub­lic­ans had av­er­age scores that placed them closest to the Sen­ate’s cen­ter, es­pe­cially on for­eign-policy is­sues.

It should be noted that last year the Sen­ate cast few­er votes than usu­al on di­vis­ive so­cial and for­eign-policy is­sues, pre­sum­ably be­cause of the cham­ber’s razor-thin mar­gin. In stark con­trast to the House, as well as to its own re­cent past, the Sen­ate agenda in­cluded not a single vote on abor­tion or crime is­sues. Al­though between 15 and 20 Sen­ate for­eign-policy votes typ­ic­ally are se­lec­ted for com­put­ing Na­tion­al Journ­al’s rat­ings, only sev­en votes in 2001 were suit­able. The small­ness of that sample ac­counts for the many tie scores in the res­ults.

House Rat­ings

In the House, each of the six Re­pub­lic­ans with a per­fect con­ser­vat­ive score in the three is­sue areas-with the ex­cep­tion of DeLay-has served less than a dec­ade, and all hail either from the South or from west of the Mis­sis­sippi River. Among House Demo­crats, eight re­ceived a per­fect lib­er­al score on every set of is­sues. They in­cluded four Cali­for­ni­ans, two New York­ers, and two oth­ers from the North­east.

Two of the House’s most-in­de­pend­ent spir­its pos­ted sig­ni­fic­ant new marks. The scores of James A. Trafic­ant Jr. of Ohio were the most con­ser­vat­ive of any House Demo­crat. Trafic­ant-who faces a fed­er­al cor­rup­tion tri­al this month-still calls him­self a Demo­crat, even though his party stripped him of his com­mit­tee as­sign­ments after he voted for J. Den­nis Hastert, R-Ill., for Speak­er a year ago. (Hall of Texas, who had been rated as the most-con­ser­vat­ive House Demo­crat in re­cent years of the rat­ings, and Lu­cas were the only oth­er Demo­crats to re­ceive a con­ser­vat­ive score in each of the three is­sue areas.)

Ron Paul of Texas, whose liber­tari­an ap­proach to gov­ern­ing has in­creas­ingly made him an icon­o­clast, trailed only Mo­rella and Leach among the most-lib­er­al House Re­pub­lic­ans. The nay-say­ing Paul re­peatedly votes against bills, from de­fense spend­ing to edu­ca­tion re­form pro­pos­als, that most Re­pub­lic­ans view as routine.

At the ideo­lo­gic­al cen­ter of the House was Sue W. Kelly, R-N.Y., whose com­pos­ite score of pre­cisely 50 meant that there were as many lib­er­als to one side of her in the cham­ber as there were con­ser­vat­ives to the oth­er side. The oth­er House mem­bers closest to the cen­ter were Demo­crats Wil­li­am Li­p­in­ski of Illinois and Mike McIntyre of North Car­o­lina, and Re­pub­lic­ans Mi­chael N. Castle of Delaware and Ben­jamin A. Gil­man of New York.

Among the 28 House Re­pub­lic­an fresh­men, five-Todd Akin of Mis­souri, John Cul­ber­son of Texas, Mike Pence of In­di­ana, and Eric Can­tor and Ed­ward Schrock of Vir­gin­ia-were among the 20 most-con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Robert Sim­mons of Con­necti­c­ut were the most-lib­er­al House GOP fresh­men. Among the 13 House Demo­crat­ic fresh­men, Brad Car­son of Ok­lahoma, Jim Math­eson of Utah, and Mike Ross of Arkan­sas were closest to the House’s cen­ter. Betty Mc­Col­lum of Min­nesota and Mike Honda and Hilda Sol­is, both of Cali­for­nia, were the most lib­er­al from that group.

In re­gion­al terms, the 72 South­ern Re­pub­lic­ans com­prised the House’s most-con­ser­vat­ive group, and the 50 West­ern Demo­crats were the most lib­er­al. The con­trast between their scores was most pro­nounced on so­cial is­sues. To­ward the cen­ter of the House were the 39 East­ern Re­pub­lic­ans and the 52 South­ern Demo­crats.

Richard E. Co­hen Na­tion­al Journ­al

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