Few Reagan 'rubber stamps' among Capitol's GOP freshmen
Scurrying eagerly to the floor of the House of Representatives to cast their first votes, freshman congressmen rush past sobering remnants of the careers of those whom they are replacing.
Wooden pallets lining a basement corridor of the Cannon House Office Building are heaped shoulder high with cardboard boxes of papers to be shipped home to law- makers just defeated or retired.
The hand-lettered labels a top each pile read like headstones for the political casualties of the 1980 election: "J, Anderson, Springfield, Ill.," "Brademas, Notre Dame, Ind.," "Carr, Lansing, Mich.," "Gudger, Cullowhee, N.C.," "Kelly, Dade City, Fla."
The newcomers stride briskly by, seeming not to notice. As a group, after all, they are a different breed than their fallen predecessors -- younger (seven of them under the age of 30), more Republican (16 out of the 18 new senators and 52 of the 74 new representatives), and more conservative.
The bumper crop of new Republicans, which swept the party into control of the Senate for the first time in a quarter of a century and narrowed its deficit in the House to a slender 26 votes, tends to be lumped together as Reagan conservatives because of the landslide victory by the GOP ticket which they shared with the President-elect.
Most, indeed, espouse the 1980 Republican bread-and-butter trilogy of a balanced budget, beefier national defense, and deregulation of business.
But looking beyond the raw numbers of the Republican election gains and focusing on the 68 individual freshman GOP lawmakers, the diversity of stances on many key issues that is revealed suggests something less monolithic than a solid bloc of Reagan rubber stamps.
"I think the group as a whole is going to be very independent," says Rep. Hank Brown (R) of Colorado, elected by the Republican "freshman class" as its president. Any unanimity with the President-elect probably goes little farther than economic policies, he said in a telephone interview from his home in Greeley.
"There was a common purpose in the election [between the Republican candidates for Congress and for president] -- to change the economic direction of the country," he explains. But beyond that -- on social issues, for instance -- he says the freshmen reflect "a wide variety of views."
Congressman Brown is himself prominent evidence of the streak of political independence in the Republican first-termers. He favors the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution outlawing sex discrimination and opposes an amendment banning abortion.
Among the new GOP lawmakers carried into office with Ronald Reagan are found staunch consumerists, avid environmentalists, foes of costly Pentagon weaponry such as the B-1 bomber, and champions of federal aid for cities and the urban poor. All these are causes distinctly out of harmony with Reagan campaign rhetoric.
A surprisingly sizable minority -- at least one-10th and probably more -- backs the ERA, despite their party's dropping its support of the measure from the 1980 platform.
A significant number of othrs buck the party platform (and presidential standard- bearer) by opposing an abortion amendment. One "pro-life" lobby group reckons it picked up only 29 supporters from among the 68 new Republicans.
A contingent of consumer advocates among the newcomers may be expected to resist any efforts by the free-market, antiregulation Reagan administration to roll back consumer protections. Included are two former state attorneys general who built political reputations as consumer champions, Sen. Slade Gorton (R) of Washington and Sen. Warren Rudman (R) of New Hampshire, as well as a consumer-oriented former state senator, Rep. Lawrence J. DeNardis (R) of Connecticut.
The ranks also contain dedicated environmentalists.
One example is Sen. Robert W. Kasten Jr. (R) of Wisconsin, an otherwise Reagan-like conservative who is a member of the National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Federation and who compiled a strongly pro-environment voting record during four years in the House.
Another freshman, Rep. Claudine Schneider (R) of Rhode Island, got her start in politics as an environmental activist protesting construction of a nuclear power plant near her home.