YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

ROLL CALL / HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES : '92 Spending Index Shows Voting Pattern Far From Solving Deficit

March 18, 1993

When President Clinton's proposed massive spending cuts reach Capitol Hill, their fate will be determined by politicians who are skilled at talking against the deficit while voting for measures that increase it.

Voting records show that the typical lawmaker, over time, usually opts for more red ink when roll calls force a choice of higher or lower spending.

Among those softest on the deficit, in fact, are members of the Democratic leadership who are touting the President's economic program, people such as Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, Majority Whip David E. Bonior of Michigan and Caucus Chairman Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland.

Even the House Republican leader, Robert H. Michel of Illinois, voted on the side of austerity less than half the time last year.

So did such would-be fiscal reformers as Rep. Charles W. Stenholm (D-Tex.), a key sponsor of the balanced budget constitutional amendment, and Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), a strident GOP voice against deficits.

Pro-spending voting is so ingrained in both parties that a wholesale change in congressional attitudes appears essential if Clinton is to get his requested hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts over five years.

Majorities in the House and Senate must become convinced that austerity voting is politically popular that their self-interest no longer is served by reflexive support of a larger federal pie.

Many lawmakers claim to have gotten the message. But words and gimmicks have been the easy part of congressional jabs at the deficit dating back to the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law. Results have not followed promises.

The newly released 1992 Spending Index survey by Roll Call Report Syndicate shows the extent to which voting patterns must change if House and Senate majorities are to approve cuts of the magnitude sought by Clinton.

The survey scrutinized virtually every roll call last year that presented a choice of more or less spending. There were 197 such votes in the House and 91 in the Senate, about four out of every 10 congressional roll calls.

The average House member supported the austerity position on 40% of the measured votes, the average senator also on 40%. House Democrats voted for frugality 32% of the time, House Republicans 52%, Senate Democrats 38% and Senate Republicans 42%.

Collectively, House and Senate majorities adopted the frugality measure--usually an amendment, motion or vote on final passage--just 34% of the time.

Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) was the top deficit hawk in House voting with a 73% score, and Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.) led the Senate with 63% austerity voting.

Other leading House hawks were Republicans John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee (72%), Bob Stump of Arizona (72%), Richard Armey of Texas (71%) and Melton Hancock of Missouri (71%).

Most-frugal senators were Republicans Hank Brown of Colorado (58%), Larry E. Craig of Idaho (56%) and Don Nickles of Oklahoma (50%).

Of California's two senators, only Barbara Boxer was listed at 21%, based on her House voting last year. Sen. Dianne Feinstein was not in office.

Majority Whip Bonior ranked lowest among House members still in office with a 19% austerity score. Other Democratic leadership scores were 21% each for Majority Leader Gephardt and Caucus Chairman Hoyer and 22% for Caucus Vice Chairman Vic Fazio of West Sacramento. Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) was not surveyed because he seldom votes.

GOP Leader Michel voted for the less-spending alternative 42% of the time last year, Gramm 41% and Stenholm 49%. Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) had a 51% score.

The survey tracked floor votes where the issue was to raise or lower authorization or appropriation levels, change the size of a program, create new or dismantle existing units of government, alter entitlement benefits, set levels of the annual congressional budget resolution, change the tax code, and make structural fiscal changes such as a constitutionally required balanced budget.

Excluded were several votes on final passage of measures necessary to fund the essential functions of a national government.

The survey covered items as comparatively small as $18 million to upgrade the Lincoln home in Springfield, Ill., (approved) and as massive as a requested $27-billion cut in defense spending (rejected).

By category, the most votes were on defense spending and measures to eliminate pork barrel, trim the legislative branch budget, and eliminate federal programs and agencies portrayed by critics as outmoded.

This year, the annual congressional budget resolution is the blueprint for the multitude of individual program changes in Clinton's deficit-reduction plan.

One vote on last year's version of the resolution concerned runaway entitlement spending, a target of Clinton's deficit reduction. If the 1992 outcome is any precedent, he has cause for concern.

By a more than 2-1 margin, the Senate killed an attempt to limit entitlement spending growth, excepting Social Security, to slightly more than the rate of inflation, in hopes of saving $53 billion over five years.

Survey Results

The percentages show how often the Glendale area's U.S. lawmakers voted for the less-spending alternative on 1992 roll calls that presented a clear choice between higher or lower federal spending. Perfect pro-austerity, anti-deficit voting would be 100%.

The Glendale delegation How they voted Rep. Xavier Becerra * D-Montebello, 30th District Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead 59% R-Glendale, 27th District

* Not in office in 1992

Source: Roll Call Report Syndicate

Los Angeles Times Articles