CONGRESS - A Congress Divided

Feb. 5, 2000, 7 a.m.

Every year for the past 19 years, Na­tion­al Journ­al has ana­lyzed the votes of House mem­bers and Sen­at­ors. And every year, at least one pat­tern was fairly pre­dict­able: Most Demo­crats would be on the left, most Re­pub­lic­ans would be on the right, and cent­rists from both parties would be in­ter­mingled in the middle. Last year was dif­fer­ent. In the Sen­ate, for the

first time since Na­tion­al Journ­al began com­pil­ing the vote rat­ings in 1981, every Demo­crat had an av­er­age score that was to the left of the most-lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­an’s. (Or, de­pend­ing on your per­spect­ive, every Re­pub­lic­an was to the right of the most-con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat.)

By con­trast, the Sen­ate in re­cent years fea­tured a middle cluster drawn from both parties. In 1998, for ex­ample, a cadre of 13 Sen­at­ors ranged from most-con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat John Br­eaux of Louisi­ana on the right to most-lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­an James M. Jef­fords of Ver­mont on the left of that group. Like­wise, there were groups of 17 bi­par­tis­an cent­rists in 1995 and 1997, and 10 in 1996. But in 1999, such com­ming­ling was gone.

In the House, only two Re­pub­lic­ans-Sher­wood L. Boehlert of New York and Con­stance A. Mo­rella of Mary­land-were in that cham­ber’s more-lib­er­al half on each of the three is­sue areas con­sidered in the rat­ings. And only two Demo­crats-Vir­gil H. Goode of Vir­gin­ia and Ral­ph M. Hall of Texas-ranked in the more-con­ser­vat­ive half of the House in each is­sue area. (And, of course, Goode switched his party af­fil­i­ation to in­de­pend­ent on Jan. 24.) This is the few­est in vote-rat­ings his­tory.

The find­ings help ex­plain why so little got done in Con­gress last year. Dur­ing 1999, le­gis­lat­ive deal-mak­ing be­came a lost art, votes were cast to high­light par­tis­an polit­ic­al dif­fer­ences, and po­lar­iz­a­tion ruled.

In post-im­peach­ment Wash­ing­ton, the Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity in Con­gress and Pres­id­ent Clin­ton rarely ex­ten­ded their hands to each oth­er. Clin­ton sum­mar­ily ve­toed the GOP tax cut pack­age, and ef­forts to find con­sensus on So­cial Se­cur­ity and Medi­care re­forms nev­er reached first base. Each cham­ber de­bated pa­tients’ rights and gun con­trol/ju­ven­ile justice pro­pos­als and sent le­gis­la­tion to House-Sen­ate con­fer­ence com­mit­tees, where pro­spects for agree­ment with­in Con­gress and with Clin­ton re­main dim. Like­wise, the Kosovo con­flict, the year’s ma­jor for­eign policy event, gen­er­ated plenty of heat and little com­mon ground.

"The long-awaited re­align­ment of Con­gress has taken place," said Gar­ris­on Nel­son, a polit­ic­al sci­ence pro­fess­or at the Uni­versity of Ver­mont and seni­or fel­low at the Uni­versity of Mas­sachu­setts (Bo­ston), who as­sisted for many years in pre­par­ing these rat­ings. "The middle ground has fallen out… . Con­gres­sion­al polit­ics are more po­lar­ized than ever. It will be ex­traordin­ar­ily dif­fi­cult for who­ever is the next Pres­id­ent to re-es­tab­lish bi­par­tis­an­ship."

For their part, the top House and Sen­ate lead­ers didn’t ex­actly prac­tice mod­er­a­tion. Each clearly spent more time preach­ing to his party’s true be­liev­ers rather than reach­ing across the aisle. Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Trent Lott, R-Miss., and House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Dick Armey, R-Texas, ranked in the top 20 per­cent of con­ser­vat­ives in their re­spect­ive cham­bers. Sim­il­arly, Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., and House Minor­ity Lead­er Richard A. Geph­ardt, D-Mo., were in the top fifth of lib­er­al law­makers. None of the top lead­ers, however, were at the out­er edge of their party’s ideo­lo­gic­al ex­treme. House GOP lead­ers par­tic­u­larly sought to smooth their own rough edges.

There were, as al­ways, a few law­makers who struggled to cre­ate a cent­rist co­ali­tion. But the ef­forts of this muddled middle were mostly in vain. In the Sen­ate, this group con­sisted of sev­er­al ju­ni­or mem­bers who have ob­jec­ted to the cham­ber’s par­tis­an ex­cesses. They in­cluded such Demo­crats as fresh­man Sens. Evan Bayh of In­di­ana and Blanche Lin­coln of Arkan­sas, and such Re­pub­lic­ans as Gor­don H. Smith of Ore­gon and Olympia Snowe of Maine, both of whom are in their first term.

In the House, the sev­er­al dozen cent­rists fea­tured more-vet­er­an mem­bers. Among them were Re­pub­lic­an com­mit­tee Chair­men Ben­jamin A. Gil­man of New York, Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, and Jim Leach of Iowa, and seni­or Demo­crats Ike Skelton of Mis­souri and Charles W. Sten­holm of Texas.

In­ter­est­ingly, the rat­ings show that the law­makers in the middle of the House and Sen­ate came chiefly from the geo­graph­ic cen­ter of the na­tion. By con­trast, the le­gis­lat­ive pur­ists ten­ded to come from the East or West Coast. In the Sen­ate, the three Demo­crats with per­fect lib­er­al scores were Bar­bara Box­er of Cali­for­nia, Frank R. Lauten­berg of New Jer­sey, and Paul S. Sar­banes of Mary­land. Of the nine House Demo­crats with per­fect lib­er­al scores, four were from the Los Angeles area and three were from East Coast cit­ies. The sole Re­pub­lic­an in Con­gress to have a per­fect con­ser­vat­ive score was Rep. Wally Her­ger of North­ern Cali­for­nia. The most-con­ser­vat­ive Sen­at­or was Phil Gramm of Texas.

These res­ults are some of the high­lights of Na­tion­al Journ­al’s vote rat­ings for 1999. The scores show where law­makers rank re­l­at­ive to one an­oth­er in the Sen­ate and the House on a lib­er­al-to-con­ser­vat­ive scale in each of three cat­egor­ies: eco­nom­ic, so­cial, and for­eign. The scores are de­term­ined by a com­puter-as­sisted cal­cu­la­tion that ranks the mem­bers from one end of the ideo­lo­gic­al spec­trum to the oth­er on key votes-74 in the House and 50 in the Sen­ate-se­lec­ted by Na­tion­al Journ­al re­port­ers and ed­it­ors. Un­like rat­ings pro­duced by in­terest groups, these scores do not dic­tate what is a "cor­rect" vote.

The res­ults show, for ex­ample, that on eco­nom­ic is­sues, Rep. John D. Din­gell, D-Mich., had a lib­er­al score of 89 and a con­ser­vat­ive score of 0. This means that on eco­nom­ic is­sues he was more lib­er­al than 89 per­cent of oth­er House mem­bers and more con­ser­vat­ive than 0 per­cent of oth­er House mem­bers. By ex­amin­ing both num­bers, you can see that Din­gell was tied with 11 per­cent of House mem­bers on the lib­er­al rat­ing, and that 89 was the highest pos­sible score for a lib­er­al on eco­nom­ic is­sues last year. On so­cial is­sues, by con­trast, Din­gell’s lib­er­al score was 63 and his con­ser­vat­ive score was 37, pla­cing him to­ward the cen­ter of the House.

* For charts list­ing the most-con­ser­vat­ive and most-lib­er­al law­makers and the cent­rists, and for an ex­plan­a­tion of how to de­term­ine a law­maker’s com­pos­ite score, see box, pp. 384-85.

* For a de­tailed ex­plan­a­tion of how the vote rat­ings are cal­cu­lated, see box, p. 386

A list of the Sen­ate and House votes that were used to de­term­ine the rat­ings be­gins on p. 387.

* Rat­ings for Sen­at­ors be­gin on p. 390, and rat­ings for House mem­bers be­gin on p. 394.

House Rat­ings

The House’s most-con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­ans ten­ded to be re­l­at­ively ju­ni­or South­ern­ers. Of the 14 mem­bers (in­clud­ing Her­ger) who had per­fect con­ser­vat­ive scores in at least two of the three is­sue cat­egor­ies, 10 were from the South. Eight of them were first elec­ted in 1994, and the oth­ers were more-seni­or and hold key po­s­i­tions-in­clud­ing Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence Chair­man J.C. Watts of Ok­lahoma, Ap­pro­pri­ations sub­com­mit­tee Chair­men Ron Pack­ard, R-Cal­if., and Charles Taylor, R-N.C., and Com­merce sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Joe Bar­ton, R-Texas.

In­ter­est­ingly, Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Dav­is of Vir­gin­ia-who shares the dis­tinc­tion with Watts of hav­ing ous­ted an in­cum­bent to win a GOP lead­er­ship po­s­i­tion a year ago-ranked among the most-mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans.

Among House Demo­crats, the most con­sist­ent lib­er­als were also re­l­at­ively ju­ni­or. Of these nine mem­bers, all but three began serving after 1992. Six of the group are Afric­an-Amer­ic­an and two are His­pan­ic. As a group, West­ern Demo­crats av­er­aged the highest lib­er­al score on so­cial is­sues.

Last year’s vot­ing pat­terns in the House ac­cen­tu­ated trends of re­cent years: Of the 12 Re­pub­lic­ans whose com­pos­ite scores leaned lib­er­al, nine hailed from the East; last year as in 1998, the most-lib­er­al mem­ber was Mo­rella. Of the 11 Demo­crats whose com­pos­ite scores placed them in the con­ser­vat­ive half of the House, nine were from the South.

As a group, the 38 East­ern Re­pub­lic­ans had an av­er­age lib­er­al score nearly twice that of the re­main­ing House Re­pub­lic­ans; those dis­tinc­tions were most pro­nounced on eco­nom­ic is­sues. There was, however, a re­l­at­ively small gap between the av­er­age con­ser­vat­ive scores of Demo­crats from the South and those from the Mid­w­est. This close­ness was be­cause of the many South­ern Demo­crats-mostly Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans-who have more-lib­er­al vot­ing re­cords. The South­ern Demo­crats were the most con­ser­vat­ive on so­cial is­sues.

In­cluded in the two swing groups was Rep. Mi­chael P. For­bes of New York, a Re­pub­lic­an who be­came a Demo­crat last Ju­ly. He con­tin­ued his pat­tern of 1998 that placed him near the cen­ter of the House in each of the three is­sue cat­egor­ies.

And Goode’s 1999 vot­ing re­cord gave clear sig­nals that he was more ideo­lo­gic­ally com­fort­able with House Re­pub­lic­ans. Goode had a per­fect con­ser­vat­ive score on for­eign policy is­sues and a com­pos­ite rat­ing that not only placed him far to the right of even Hall, who has of­ten ranked as the most-con­ser­vat­ive House Demo­crat, but also to the right of Armey.

The mem­bers whose scores placed them pre­cisely at the cen­ter of the House in 1999 were Reps. Chris John, D-La., Wil­li­am Li­p­in­ski, D-Ill., and Chris­toph­er Shays, R-Conn. Des­pite their ap­par­ent like-minded­ness, it is dif­fi­cult to re­call any le­gis­lat­ive is­sues on which they have worked with one an­oth­er.

Sen­ate Rat­ings

As in the House, in the Sen­ate the most-ar­dent con­ser­vat­ives ten­ded to be South­ern and re­l­at­ively ju­ni­or. Of the 12 with the highest con­ser­vat­ive scores, six were from the South and only two were com­mit­tee chair­men-Gramm and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. Aside from Ma­jor­ity Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., all of the oth­ers have be­gun their Sen­ate terms since the 1990 elec­tion.

The Re­pub­lic­an reneg­ades most likely to build bi­par­tis­an co­ali­tions came from two groups: sev­er­al from the East, whose views are more mod­er­ate and who typ­ic­ally have been in­clined to seek bi­par­tis­an­ship, and a hand­ful of first-ter­mers who fear the ad­versari­al tac­tics of Sen­ate lead­ers and com­mit­tee chair­men could prove costly at elec­tion time. The only Re­pub­lic­ans with a lib­er­al score in each of the three is­sue areas were Jef­fords and Sen. John H. Chafee of Rhode Is­land, who died in Oc­to­ber.

In ad­di­tion, two of the Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans who have made pres­id­en­tial bids fell sur­pris­ingly close to the cen­ter. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., was re­l­at­ively con­ser­vat­ive on eco­nom­ic is­sues, but close to the cen­ter on for­eign policy, as shown by his sup­port for U.S. mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion in Kosovo last year. Or­rin G. Hatch, R-Utah, was close to the Sen­ate’s cen­ter on both eco­nom­ic and for­eign policy is­sues, which may re­flect the prag­mat­ic tone he took be­fore abandon­ing his pres­id­en­tial bid re­cently. (Sen. Bob Smith of New Hamp­shire, who last year aban­doned but then re­joined the GOP amid his un­suc­cess­ful pres­id­en­tial can­did­acy, was among the most-con­ser­vat­ive Sen­at­ors.)

The most-con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ors fea­tured a pot­pourri that in­cluded-in ad­di­tion to new­comers Bayh and Lin­coln-Chief Deputy Minor­ity Whip Br­eaux, Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee Chair­man Robert G. Tor­ri­celli of New Jer­sey, and ex-party lead­er Robert C. Byrd of West Vir­gin­ia. The scores for those five were strik­ingly sim­il­ar: slightly to the left of cen­ter in each of the three is­sue areas. Sen. Ern­est F. Hollings of South Car­o­lina, who had the most-con­ser­vat­ive scores for Sen­ate Demo­crats in 1998 (when he was up for re-elec­tion), moved to­ward the left in 1999.

The most-lib­er­al Demo­crats in­cluded both seni­or and ju­ni­or Sen­at­ors. The res­ults also showed that the 13 Demo­crats from the East nar­rowly led the 10 Sen­at­ors from the West as the most-lib­er­al bloc in their av­er­age scores. The re­gion­al dif­fer­ences between Sen­ate Demo­crats, and between House Demo­crats as well, have been di­min­ish­ing.

As they entered the new year, law­makers across Cap­it­ol Hill were seek­ing op­por­tun­it­ies for deal-mak­ing. But the evid­ence makes it hard to be­lieve that these 535 mem­bers will en­gage in pro­duct­ive, and long-last­ing, searches for con­sensus.

Richard E. Co­hen Na­tion­al Journ­al

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