Our legislators voted for free trade less than half the time during the 100th Congress, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Senators opposed protectionism 42.7 percent of the time, down from 45.1 percent during the 99th Congress. In the House, representatives voted for free trade 38.5 percent of the time, up slightly from 35 percent during the 99th Congress.
CEI studied 24 Senate votes and 17 House votes on trade issues. Among the bills were proposals to limit textile and apparel imports, require disclosure of foreign investment in the United States, restrict use of imported cement in highway construction, and expand various forms of trade protectionism in the omnibus trade bill.
In the House, 15 Republicans had perfect scores, supporting free trade 100 percent of the time. Included in this group were Jack Kemp (now secretary of HUD), Phil Crane, Robert Dornan, Al McCandless, Robert Badham, and Minority Leader Robert Michel. House Whip Dick Cheney—now secretary of Defense—voted for trade 94 percent of the time, and Republican conference chairman Jerry Lewis (the number-three Republican) followed closely with a 93. House Republicans averaged 71.9, almost exactly the score earned by new Whip Newt Gingrich (71).
On the other side of the aisle and the other end of the spectrum, 31 House Democrats, including Speaker Jim Wright, scored zero, opposing free trade on every vote. Perennial REASON target John Dingell scored only a 7. But House Majority Leader Tom Foley had one of the highest scores among House Democrats, 53. House Democrats averaged only 15.2.
In the Senate, Daniel Evans of Washington state was the only member to score a perfect 100. He was followed closely by fellow Republicans Gordon Humphrey (96), Rudy Boschwitz (92), Phil Gramm (92), John McCain (91), and Dan Quayle (90). Bringing up the rear among Senate Republicans were Pennsylvanians John Heinz (15) and Arlen Specter (18), William Cohen (17), and Strom Thurmond (26). Senate Republicans earned an average score of 63.
The lowest overall rankings in the Senate were obtained by Democrats John Melcher (4), Richard Selby (4), Dennis DeConcini (5), Carl Levin (8), and Howard Metzenbaum (10). Brock Adams joined fellow Washingtonians Evans and Foley at the top of the ratings. Adams's 61 was the highest score among Senate Democrats, followed by Bill Bradley (58) and Bob Graham (54). That "conservative son-of-the-South" Sam Nunn scored only 38. The average score of Senate Democrats was 26.
Tom Miller, who surveyed and analyzed the votes for CEI, notes that "the 100th Congress did more than its share" in imposing trade barriers. The only good news, he contends, is that "there's not much more damage that Capitol Hill legislators can do."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Trading Votes".