- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2000

Sen. John McCain's ideological index of his votes in the Senate has become somewhat less conservative in recent years, but he still has a conservative record, based on an examination of his voting record over the past decade.

The Republican presidential candidate has been criticized by conservative Republicans for his high-profile support for campaign-finance reform and tobacco regulation. His critics have suggested that he is a closet liberal.

But an examination of key votes in the past 10 years, along with a look at key interest-group ratings, show that Mr. McCain remains conservative on most issues.

"We're a little tired of the media calling John McCain a liberal," said Debbie Atlas, spokeswoman for the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). "It's a little bit of a defamation of our character."

The ADA gave Mr. McCain a 5 percent rating in 1999 for his support of liberal causes and a 20 percent rating in 1998. Those numbers were based on his campaign finance reform bill, which most Republicans oppose.

His record has earned him no points from liberals otherwise. He has, for example, consistently supported a ban on partial-birth abortion and opposed Democratic efforts to permit overseas military hospitals to perform abortions.

He has voted for constitutional amendments requiring a balanced budget and forbidding the desecration of the American flag.

He has also voted for efforts to reduce sex and violence in television programming and opposed funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Over the last 10 years, Mr. McCain has been a reliable vote for his party on most issues. The annual analysis by Congressional Quarterly shows that his party unity rating measured by his votes with the leadership has not dropped below 84 percent. It hit a high of 95 percent in 1996.

He has even sided with the party on parts of the campaign finance debate. Mr. McCain voted for Democratic bills in 1990, 1991 and 1993, for example, but he consistently backed Republican efforts to remove provisions for partial public financing of campaigns.

Mr. McCain also opposed Democratic efforts to alter those provisions into full public financing.

His support for President Clinton has remained low between 30 percent and 50 percent except for 1997, when he supported the president's proposals 70 percent of the time. He was only marginally out of step with his colleagues that year, however, with Senate Republicans supporting the president an average of 60 percent of the time.

Mr. McCain's ratings from key conservative organizations, meanwhile, remained high throughout the 1990s. He scored a 100 percent approval by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1995-97. He scored 76 percent in 1998, when he pushed both campaign finance reform and a $512 billion tobacco regulation package.

The American Conservative Union rated him in the 90 percent range in 1994-96 and 80 percent in 1997 on supporting conservative causes. His ACU rating dropped to 68 percent in 1998, but rebounded to 77 percent in 1999.

"While a 77 is not a bad rating, it would certainly be more of a moderate conservative score," said Patricia Fava, communications director for the ACU.

Mr. McCain remains to the right of some liberal Republicans. The late Sen. John H. Chafee, Rhode Island Republican and the most liberal member of his party in the Senate, scored a 31 percent on the ACU scale. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, usually cited as a "centrist" which translates to "liberal" on Republican terms, "moderate" by Democrats scored 48 percent.

But Mr. McCain has broken with his party on big issues other than campaign finance and tobacco.

In 1997, for example, he was one of only 12 Republicans to back Mr. Clinton's line-item veto of $287 million in military construction. In 1998, he was one of 21 Republicans to vote against a bill barring mixed-sex training in the military.

His maverick stands, however, fall into clear patterns. He has long said the president has the main responsibility in military and foreign affairs, for example. That position has led him to support the president in many cases, such as the mixed-sex training vote.

Mr. McCain has also been sharply critical of "pork-barrel" spending, particularly items inserted in large bills outside the normal committee process. That position led him to support the line-item vetoes even though he normally backs defense spending.

It also led him to vote against the $500 billion omnibus budget package passed at the end of the 105th Congress, one of 20 Republican dissenters in the Senate.

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