CONGRESS - Managing the Middle

Jan. 23, 1999, 7 a.m.

Cap­it­ol Hill was not without its big mo­ments in 1998: the House’s im­peach­ment of Pres­id­ent Clin­ton, the resig­na­tions of a Speak­er and a Speak­er-des­ig­nate, and a mid-Oc­to­ber budget deal that many law­makers found easy to con­demn. But, apart from that ”must-pass” spend­ing plan, Con­gress had few, if any, le­gis­lat­ive achieve­ments. Even with sud­denly ample fed­er­al budget sur­pluses, the House and Sen­ate were un­able to com­plete a budget res­ol­u­tion for the first time since the an­nu­al pro­cess began in 1975, or to ap­prove the tax cut that Re­pub­lic­ans so greatly de­sired. Clin­ton’s call for a na­tion­al to­bacco deal died a slow death. And seem­ingly mod­est health care le­gis­la­tion floundered.

Des­pite their lim­ited pro­ductiv­ity, however, mem­bers of Con­gress cast a suf­fi­cient num­ber of votes to show their ideo­lo­gic­al stripes. Na­tion­al Journ­al’s an­nu­al con­gres­sion­al vote rat­ings for 1998 showed that be­cause of the Re­pub­lic­ans’ re­l­at­ively nar­row ma­jor­it­ies in the House and Sen­ate, shift­ing co­ali­tions shaped by Demo­crat­ic and GOP cent­rists con­tin­ued to de­term­ine the out­come of key le­gis­lat­ive ini­ti­at­ives and the suc­cess of both parties’ lead­er­ship strategies. Those pat­terns are likely to be seen again in the new 106th Con­gress, which con­vened this month and has hardly changed in its par­tis­an bal­ances.

At the cen­ter of the House are the ”Blue Dogs” and the ”Lunch Bunch.” Sev­en of the eight Demo­crats whose 1998 vote rat­ings placed them in the more-con­ser­vat­ive half of the House be­longed to the Blue Dogs, the group of pre­dom­in­antly South­ern Demo­crats who em­phas­ize their in­de­pend­ence from party lead­ers. On the oth­er side of the aisle, 15 of 16 Re­pub­lic­ans with lib­er­al- lean­ing com­pos­ite vote rat­ings scores were mem­bers of the more- in­form­al Lunch Bunch group of GOP mod­er­ates, mostly from the East and Mid­w­est. Al­though these groups are ex­cep­tions to the House’s con­tinu­ing pat­tern of sharp par­tis­an di­vi­sions, their in­flu­ence is likely to in­crease, es­pe­cially if the two parties are ser­i­ous about get­ting any­thing done.

The Sen­ate, by con­trast, fea­tured few ex­amples of par­tis­an in­de­pend­ence. No Demo­crats had total scores that placed them among the 50 most-con­ser­vat­ive Sen­at­ors. The only Re­pub­lic­an who strayed sig­ni­fic­antly to­ward the lib­er­al end of the ideo­lo­gic­al spec­trum was James M. Jef­fords of Ver­mont, who chairs the re­cently re­named Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee.

The vote rat­ings also re­veal that the strongest con­ser­vat­ives are re­l­at­ively ju­ni­or Re­pub­lic­ans. In the House, all but one of the 10 mem­bers with the highest con­ser­vat­ive scores were first elec­ted in 1994 or 1996. Like­wise, all six of the GOP Sen­at­ors with per­fect con­ser­vat­ive scores began their ser­vice after 1990. The two top party lead­ers—new House Speak­er J. Den­nis Hastert of Illinois and Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Trent Lott of Mis­sis­sippi—also had strongly con­ser­vat­ive scores. But sev­er­al seni­or com­mit­tee lead­ers were close to the cen­ter, in­clud­ing Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Pete V. Domen­ici, R- N.M., Sen­ate Fin­ance Com­mit­tee Chair­man Wil­li­am V. Roth Jr., R- Del., and Reps. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fla., and Wil­li­am M. Thomas, R-Cal­if., who both chair key House Ways and Means sub­com­mit­tees.

Among Demo­crats, the per­fect-lib­er­al title was shared by four law­makers who also were first elec­ted in the 1990s: Sen. Paul Well­stone of Min­nesota and Reps. Eliza­beth Furse of Ore­gon, John W. Olver of Mas­sachu­setts, and Melvin Watt of North Car­o­lina. In con­trast, the two Minor­ity Lead­ers—Sen. Thomas A. Daschle of South Dakota and Rep. Richard A. Geph­ardt of Mis­souri—placed close to the ideo­lo­gic­al middle of their party ranks.

Those res­ults are some high­lights of Na­tion­al Journ­al’s con­gres­sion­al vote rat­ings for 1998. The scores, which have been pro­duced since 1981, show where law­makers rank re­l­at­ive to one an­oth­er in both the Sen­ate and the House on a lib­er­al-to- con­ser­vat­ive scale in each of three is­sue cat­egor­ies: eco­nom­ic, so­cial, and for­eign. Un­like rat­ings pre­pared by in­terest groups or oth­er news or­gan­iz­a­tions, these scores do not de­term­ine what is a ”cor­rect” (or ”in­cor­rect”) vote.

The scores are de­term­ined by a com­puter-as­sisted cal­cu­la­tion that ranks the mem­bers ideo­lo­gic­ally on key votes se­lec­ted by Na­tion­al Journ­al re­port­ers and ed­it­ors. The res­ults show, for ex­ample, that Geph­ardt had a lib­er­al score of 69 and a con­ser­vat­ive score of 31 on so­cial policy. That means he voted more lib­er­al than 69 per­cent of House mem­bers on those key is­sues and more con­ser­vat­ive than the oth­er 31 per­cent. On eco­nom­ic is­sues, Geph­ardt’s lib­er­al score of 79 and con­ser­vat­ive score of 0 show that he tied with 21 per­cent of his House col­leagues for the most-lib­er­al rat­ing.

* For an ex­plan­a­tion of how the vote rat­ings are cal­cu­lated, see box, p. 186.

* A list of the Sen­ate and House roll-call votes that were used to de­term­ine the rat­ings be­gins on p. 187.

* Rat­ings for Sen­at­ors be­gin on p. 190, and rat­ings for House mem­bers be­gin on p. 194.

* An ex­plan­a­tion of how to de­term­ine a law­maker’s com­pos­ite score, plus a chart list­ing the most-con­ser­vat­ive and most-lib­er­al mem­bers of Con­gress and the cent­rists, based on the com­pos­ite scores, ap­pears on pp. 184-85. The House Rat­ings

In the tur­bu­lent House, one strik­ing fea­ture of the rat­ings is the grow­ing re­gion­al frac­tures among Re­pub­lic­ans. Of the 16 Re­pub­lic­ans who ranked in the more-lib­er­al half of the House, 10 were from the East. By con­trast, 18 of the 30 most- con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans were from the South. As a group, House GOP mem­bers from the East had an av­er­age com­pos­ite score of 40 on the lib­er­al scale, which is twice the com­par­able rat­ing for the House’s lar­ger corps of South­ern Re­pub­lic­ans. The di­ver­gence between the re­gions was strongest on so­cial is­sues and nar­row­est on for­eign policy.

Mean­while, the Re­pub­lic­ans’ re­cent lead­er­ship shifts pro­duced some mod­er­a­tion at the top of their ranks. New Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence Chair­man J.C. Watts Jr. of Ok­lahoma and new Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Thomas M. Dav­is III of Vir­gin­ia have more-cent­rist rat­ings than the two mem­bers whom they ous­ted in Novem­ber: John Boehner of Ohio and John Linder of Geor­gia. In­ter­est­ingly, Watts and Dav­is rank among the GOP’s least-con­ser­vat­ive South­ern­ers. The Re­pub­lic­ans’ dis­ap­point­ing five-seat loss in last Novem­ber’s elec­tion, com­bined with the cool­ing of the re­volu­tion­ary ar­dor fo­mented by their 1994 Con­tract With Amer­ica un­der the lead­er­ship of now- de­par­ted Speak­er Newt Gin­grich, may ac­cel­er­ate those shifts.

Among Demo­crats, the scores re­veal that mem­bers from the West—many of whom are from Cali­for­nia—ten­ded to be the most lib­er­al. Of the 12 mem­bers with the most-lib­er­al com­pos­ite score, eight are West­ern­ers. The com­puter ana­lys­is shows that lib­er­al scores among West­ern­ers, as a group, were par­tic­u­larly strong on so­cial and for­eign policy is­sues.

The Demo­crats’ con­ser­vat­ive flank, not sur­pris­ingly, con­sisted mostly of South­ern­ers, but a healthy num­ber of Mid­west­ern­ers also are join­ing their ranks. Two factors ac­count for that trend: the elec­tion in the South of more blacks, most of whom are re­l­at­ively lib­er­al, plus the move­ment of some Mid­west­ern Demo­crats to­ward the cen­ter. Of the eight Demo­crats whose scores placed them in the more- con­ser­vat­ive half of the House, four were from the Mid­w­est and four from the South.

As was the case in the 1997 vote rat­ings, Rep. Ral­ph M. Hall of Texas was the most-con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat and Rep. Con­stance A. Mo­rella of Mary­land was the most-lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­an. Hall’s scores have moved him in­to the top 20 per­cent of most- con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers, and he had nearly per­fect con­ser­vat­ive scores on both so­cial and for­eign policy is­sues. Mo­rella, whose lib­er­al rat­ing was highest on so­cial is­sues, had over­all scores that fit com­fort­ably with those of East­ern Demo­crats. Among Re­pub­lic­ans, Rep. Amory Houghton Jr. of New York ran close to Mo­rella in his scores.

If you are look­ing for the House’s weath­er vanes, check out the four mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans whose sep­ar­ate rat­ings and com­pos­ite scores placed them at the pre­cise cen­ter of the House: Reps. Steve La­Tour­ette of Ohio, Rick A. Lazio of New York, Jim Ram­stad of Min­nesota, and Marg e Roukema of New Jer­sey. It’s a safe bet that not much im­port­ant le­gis­la­tion will pass the House next year without their sup­port. The Sen­ate Rat­ings

Re­gion­al pat­terns fell along pre­dict­able lines in the Sen­ate. The East had both the most-lib­er­al Demo­crats, as a group, and the most-lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans. The South, like­wise, was the most-con­ser­vat­ive re­gion among both Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans.

As those out­comes in­dic­ate, the re­gion­al break­down among Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans was sim­il­ar to the House GOP pat­tern. The four most-lib­er­al Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans—John H. Chafee of Rhode Is­land, Alf­onse M. D’Am­ato of New York, Ar­len Specter of Pennsylvania, and Jef­fords—were all from the East. Of the six Re­pub­lic­ans with per­fect con­ser­vat­ive scores, four were from the South: Lauch Fair­cloth of North Car­o­lina, Tim Hutchin­son of Arkan­sas, James M. In­hofe of Ok­lahoma, and Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama. The oth­er two were John D. Ash­croft of Mis­souri and Robert C. Smith of New Hamp­shire. (D’Am­ato and Fair­cloth were de­feated for re-elec­tion in Novem­ber.)

In con­trast to 1997, when three East­ern­ers—Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Joseph I. Lieber­man of Con­necti­c­ut, and Daniel Patrick Moyni­han of New York—ranked among the five most- con­ser­vat­ive Sen­ate Demo­crats, 1998 was a re­turn to form, with the four most-con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats all from the South. Top­ping that group was Ern­est F. Hollings of South Car­o­lina, who sur­vived a vig­or­ous re-elec­tion chal­lenge. His com­pos­ite score placed him at the cen­ter point of the Sen­ate, along with Re­pub­lic­ans Robert F. Ben­nett of Utah and Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ted Stevens of Alaska.

The Sen­ate rat­ings also show some not­able trends among party lead­ers. While Lott and Ma­jor­ity Whip Don Nickles of Ok­lahoma con­tin­ue to rank among the most-con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans, GOP Con­fer­ence Chair­man Con­nie Mack III of Flor­ida has moved markedly to­ward the polit­ic­al cen­ter. Among Demo­crats, the new Minor­ity Whip, Harry M. Re­id of Nevada, was among the most-con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats, as was the re­tired Wendell H. Ford of Ken­tucky, whom Re­id re­placed in that lead­er­ship post.

If and when Con­gress takes up ser­i­ous le­gis­lat­ive busi­ness this year, those Sen­ate cent­rists and their House coun­ter­parts could play im­port­ant roles, both in smooth­ing their own parties’ rough edges and in reach­ing across the aisle. For now, at least, those pro­spect­ive con­sensus build­ers face for­mid­able chal­lenges.

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