Big turnover in Congress is likely

April 28, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Suddenly, and with virtually no fanfare, that throng of voters whose prevailing attitude toward Congress is to throw the bums out is getting its wish: Incumbents are leaving. In droves.

Swept out by a generational change, forced out by public cynicism, unforgiving politics and unrelenting fund-raising demands, up to 90 of the House and Senate's 535 members are likely to be gone when the next Congress convenes.

Some will lose elections. But most are just retiring.

So many members are leaving the House of Representatives this year -- 46 already, atop 45 departures in 1990 and a record 110 in 1992 -- that the majority of the next House is virtually certain to consist of politicians with four years of Washington experience or less. That would make it the greenest House in at least 20 years, probably in 45 years.

The turnover, astonishing by historical measures, is good news for advocates of term limits and others who contend that elected Washington has become an American royalty.

But the meaning is less clear for the legislative and electoral systems, which many say have grown meaner and more impersonal with each succeeding rout of incumbents.

With yesterday's announcement by Sen. David L. Boren, D-Okla., that he will retire at the end of this session to become president of the University of Oklahoma, nine senators will have stepped aside this year. And other incumbents seem likely to lose in November's election.

In part, because there are far more Democrats in Congress than

Republicans, far more Democrats are now deciding to leave. And several factors, from redistricting to Mr. Clinton's middling popularity, make it likely that Republicans will capture an unusually large number of open seats in November.

Indeed, if the Republicans win 17 additional House seats -- and the early line gives them a gain of 15 to 30 -- they will hold a bigger share of the 435-member House than at any time since 1958.

As a practical matter, that would deprive Mr. Clinton of ideological control of the House. Even with the 82-seat edge that the Democratic Party now holds in the House, the president could muster only one- to three-vote majorities last year for major parts of his legislative agenda.

His plight is only marginally better in the Senate, where many analysts also expect Republicans to cut deeply into the Democrats' 12-seat majority. There, even a small loss will make it much more difficult for Democrats to squelch the filibusters that Republicans regularly employ to stall legislation they dislike.

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