Sarbanes dropped by the Ivory Tower to talk...


October 17, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

SEN. PAUL Sarbanes dropped by the Ivory Tower to talk about his re-election campaign.

He asked editorial writers to consider the fact that when his Republican opponent, Bill Brock, was a senator from Tennessee in the 1970s, he missed 20 percent of the roll call votes. He, himself, however, almost always votes. He voted on 770 of 772 roll calls in the two years of this Congress. You could look it up.

(I did. Sarbanes hasn't missed more than 9 percent of roll calls a year in his whole Senate career, and hasn't missed more than 1 percent in the last eight years.)

Sounds like a good point -- senators get paid to vote, right? -- but I happen to believe that senators vote too much. So do most people.

One reason I believe it's a bad idea to vote so many times is that a senator simply can't know what's in nearly 400 bills, amendments, resolutions and motions a year.

When I first went to Washington, a senator voted just over 200 times a year. Those were the good old days of the New Frontier (by cracky), and people liked Washington a lot more then than they like it now.

The main reason it's a bad idea to vote so much is those votes translate into laws and regulations, etc., that cover everything. You can't assault a chicken inspector or dig a drainage ditch or hire or fire an employee or buy a nuclear weapon without becoming involved with the U.S. Code or some federal departmental regs. The federal government is too much a presence in the average person's daily life.

I'm not guessing when I say most people think senators vote too much.

A new CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll says Congress is even more unpopular than President Clinton. His disapproval/approval rating is 52-42. Congress' is 73-21.

But, Theo, you're thinking, that doesn't prove your point. Maybe the public's dissatisfaction is based on the feeling that Congress doesn't do enough, doesn't vote enough.

No way. A recent poll conducted by Marketing Strategies found that by a margin of 76 percent to 18 percent, adult Americans agreed with this statement:

"Congress' pay should be cut in half, and they should spend six months of the year back home with their constituents."

The Marketing Strategies poll was taken for former Bush Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander. He's running for president on a platform that features that plank. He says it's the best applause-getting line in his speeches.

I think of this as "the Tennessee Plan." Alexander was governor of Tennessee before he was secretary. Before he was governor he was a legislative assistant to Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), who, if not the originator of the part-time Congress idea was certainly the highest profile advocate of it before Alexander.

Not every Tennessean agrees with it, of course. For example, Bill Brock doesn't.

Thursday: Where "Tenn." is a four-letter word.

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