- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2004

Republicans in Congress have shifted dramatically to the left during the presidency of George W. Bush, their voting records show.

Democrats, on the other hand, have moved significantly rightward.

Whether it’s the influence of Mr. Bush, the rush by both parties to the center is dramatic.

In 2002, 19 Senate Republicans amassed 100 percent conservative voting records. Not one did for 2003, according to an American Conservative Union (ACU) tally to be released later this week.

At the other end of the spectrum, no Democrat scored a perfect liberal voting record last year, compared with nine who did in 2002.

In the scoring for the year just ended, the ACU looked at 24 House votes and 19 Senate votes on conservative issues such as partial-birth abortion, the budget resolutions, the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, liability protections for gun manufacturers, limits on class-action lawsuits and Mr. Bush’s forest-thinning initiative.

All votes received equal weight, except for the vote on Medicare prescription drug benefits, which counted double.

Conservatives and liberals outside of Congress watched the Medicare vote closely, regarding it as an ideological test for lawmakers.

ACU lobbied Republicans in both houses to oppose the bill, and warned the lawmakers beforehand that voting for the plan would cost them in their annual ACU ratings.

“We announced prior to the vote in both chambers that our intention was not only to include the prescription drug vote in our scoring this time, but double-weight it,” said ACU Executive Director Richard Lessner. “We wanted to show the importance we attached to the vote.”

For Republicans, the shift has been so stark that six former perfect scorers no longer rate as conservatives.

For 2003, Sens. Wayne Allard of Colorado, Robert F. Bennett of Utah, Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska slipped to less than 80 percent, which ACU sets as the minimum rating for being considered a conservative.

“Overall, 2003 was not a good year in Congress for limited-government conservatives,” said ACU Vice Chairman Donald J. Devine.

Among Democrats, once-perfect liberal scorers Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont lost their liberal standing, going from no conservative votes in 2002 to more than 20 percent last year. ACU regards a score of 20 percent or less as liberal.

In the House, 60 members received 100 percent conservative ratings in 2002. Only two — Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, and Rep. Zach Wamp, Tennessee Republican — did so in 2003.

On the left, 115 members, all Democrats, rated 20 percent or less last year, compared with 161 in 2002.

Mr. Devine suggested the shift of both sides to the middle may result in part from the thin Republican majorities in both houses. “And the center is presumably where the president wants to be politically in an election year.”

The highest Senate conservative score for 2003 was a 95 percent. It went to three Republicans: Sens. John Ensign of Nevada, Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

The only other senator to break 90 percent was Republican John E. Sununu of New Hampshire.

Last year, 29 senators scored the bare conservative minimum of 80 percent or more, compared with 42 in 2002.

“The scores suggest what happens to the conservative agenda in an era of Republican hegemony in Washington,” Mr. Lessner said.

On the Democrat side, 17 senators scored below a strongly liberal 15 percent. They included Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Thirty senators managed to score no more than 20 percent — the minimum rating to be rated a liberal — compared with 38 in 2002.

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