WASHINGTON — One congressman from California believes that President Reagan needs to show more muscle and abandon free-trade policies that are too idealistic. Another contends that lawmakers should be guided on trade issues by the interests of consumers, not by the views of organized labor.
The first congressman opposes the Administration's attempts to cut federal funds for Amtrak and the Health and Human Services Department. The second Californian last year supported a Republican-inspired amendment to spend federal housing money for the renovation of existing housing, not the construction of new units, and he recently opposed a Democratic-sponsored proposal to aid the homeless because he is convinced that little of the money would reach the needy.
The first congressman supports giving more money to Philippine President Corazon Aquino as a pragmatic gesture while the second opposes more money to Aquino and most other nations because he believes that most foreign aid is wasted.
The first man is a Democrat and the second a Republican, right? Wrong.
Rep. Charles Pashayan Jr. (R-Fresno) advocates limited protectionism and opposes domestic spending cuts. It is Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Beverly Hills) who takes the free-market approach on trade and is increasingly skeptical about the benefits of federal spending.
In California's 45-Member House delegation (27 Democrats, 18 Republicans), the largest in the country, Pashayan and Beilenson stand out as rare lawmakers whose votes are not predictably partisan. Yes, Pashayan legitimately calls himself a conservative and Beilenson is a self-proclaimed liberal. But each takes pride in careful consideration of each vote, trying to represent his constituency and--most important--his conscience.
Members of Congress respond to an array of factors during the 15 minutes in which they have to decide how to cast several hundred votes each year. Although few of their votes actually put them in political jeopardy, lawmakers must remain sensitive to the possibility that a single action could come back to haunt them in a reelection campaign.
The fact that both Pashayan and Beilenson have become relatively "safe" in their respective districts is not remarkable for a state where carefully drawn lines typically have meant that few incumbents ever face a tough battle. Except for George E. Brown Jr. (D-Colton) and Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove)--each of whom received 57% of the vote--all incumbents seeking reelection last year won at least 60% of the vote.
Pashayan received 60% to win a fifth term in his largely agricultural 17th Congressional District that blankets the southern San Joaquin Valley, including the southern edge of Fresno and part of Bakersfield. Beilenson won 68%, his biggest margin in six successful bids, to retain his seat in the 23rd Congressional District, which includes Beverly Hills and Malibu plus several communities in the San Fernando Valley.
What places these two outside the mold of dependable party-line votes? What makes a sometime-maverick?
"We have never had a pure free-enterprise system in this country," said Republican Pashayan. "The genius of our system is that there is some federal involvement in our economy without nationalization . . . . I am a conservative, not a right-winger. My approach is to see what works and what doesn't."
His remarks make eminent sense for someone who represents a district in the Central Valley, where billions of dollars have come from Washington to redirect needed water from the north that has transformed the desert into "a garden in the sun" and to support local crop production. That money has taken farming out of the frontier era, Pashayan said, and made it "more scientific than agrarian."
Beilenson, in turn, said that his occasionally conservative votes have their genesis in 1975-76 during his last two years as a state legislator, when he chaired the powerful Senate Finance Committee in Sacramento: "I found myself being more careful about spending. Many programs made a lot of sense and did what we wanted them to do. But some other programs had relatively little payoff for a lot of money . . . . I was trying to be intellectually honest." That helps to explain why, when the House a few weeks ago passed the $725-million bill to aid the homeless, Beilenson was one of seven Democrats to vote against the measure.
He explained his opposition to the House, "not because I disagree with my colleagues about the importance of this issue, but because I feel that, in this case, hasty and incomplete consideration has produced a bill that will cost more money than the federal government should be spending at this time and which will direct much of that money to programs that will not get help quickly to those who need it."