Check scandal could help oust over 100 members

March 13, 1992|By Andrew Mollison | Andrew Mollison,Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- Rubber checks could help bounce more than 100 representatives out of the 435-member House. That hasn't happened since Harry S. Truman was president shortly after World War II.

Retirements, resignations, runs for higher office, death and the usual dozen or so election losses were already expected to send more than 60 members out into the cold. Another 40 departures the old-fashioned way -- being booted out by scandalized voters -- now seem possible, many members and outside analysts maintain.

"I don't know too many occupations where 20 percent of the peoplecould disappear all at once. U.S. representative is one," said Phil Duncan, the veteran political editor of Congressional Quarterly, a respected research magazine.

"This is likely to hurt incumbents, regardless of party," Mr. Duncan said. That could leave the 6-to-4 Democratic control of the House unchanged.

But more is at stake than partisan balance and 100 political careers. Four times since World War II, more than 90 newcomers have entered the House all at once. Each time the new generation's new ideas led to major changes.

The high-turnover elections came in 1946 (107 new members), 1948 (118), 1964 (91) and 1974 (92). Results included the Marshall Plan forrebuilding postwar Europe, Harry Truman's "Give 'em Hell" campaign against the "Do Nothing" Congress, the first U.S. aid to underdeveloped nations, the expansion of the Vietnam War, and reforms that stripped House leaders and committee chairmen of power and led to a wider distribution among incumbents of money from special interests.

This year's incumbents were already worried about hard economic times and a partisan stalemate on what should be done by the White House and Congress, both of which have plunged in public opinion polls.

"This is something that kind of highlights, symbolizes what people can relate to," said Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, a Michigan Republican. "All of that together contributes to the anti-

incumbent mood, and it is why we are going to have more than 100 new faces in the House of Representatives when the next Congress convenes."

Rep. Patsy T. Mink, a Hawaii Democrat, said that even members who didn't bounce checks could be in trouble. "It's a cloud on the House itself, on the way the bank was run," she said.

Republicans, who have only 40 percent of the House seats, have tried to blame the scandals on the Democratic majority. But they aren't sure yet that the argument will sell.

"There's going to be a political repercussion," said the House Republican whip, Newt Gingrich of Georgia. "I don't think you can tell yet what that repercussion is."

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