When the U.S. House of Representatives met this week to consider four divergent budget proposals, Rep. Roy Dyson (D-Md.) made sure he covered his political bases. He voted for all of them.
The freshman from Maryland's First District was the only member of Congress who managed to embrace the Republican budget plan, an amended Democratic plan, a bipartisan moderate plan and then the unamended Democratic plan.
In the space of 2 hours and 8 minutes, Dyson voted to cut the bottom line on America's budget in the next three years by raising taxes more and cutting defense more, by raising taxes less and cutting defense less and by doing something in between.
"I'm the only one? It can't be true," Dyson said incredulously when told that he had accomplished a unique feat. "I assumed other people would do the same thing."
The House, in a wild session that lasted into the early hours yesterday, rejected all four budget plans, with one congressman asserting before the final vote: "We've had three turkeys, and this is the granddaddy of them all. Doing nothing is better than doing this."
But Dyson, who defeated former representative Robert Bauman in his Eastern Shore district by a thin margin in 1980 and faces a tough reelection fight, was of a different mind.
Dyson said that like many other House members he could not enthusiastically embrace any of the plans but that he is a "realist" and felt that Congress had an obligation to pass one of the alternatives.
"The most irresponsible thing we did was to leave there without any budget at all," he said.
While Republicans and Democrats went wearily back to the drawing board yesterday to fashion new budget proposals, an aide to the Democratic leadership said Dyson's votes "at least showed that he is flexible. If we had more Roy Dysons, we'd have come out of here with a budget last night."
But Bauman, who is running in the Republican primary and hopes to reclaim his old seat in November from the 33-year-old Dyson, was more critical.
"I'm not surprised. I predicted he'd be on all sides of all issues as the budget went through," said Bauman. "He didn't disappoint me in the least."
Then Bauman pointed to a newsletter Dyson sent out last summer in which he told constituents about the budget process. "It is complex, often confusing, to those not involved daily in the legislative process and deserving of the most careful deliberation of which Congress is capable," Bauman quoted the newsletter as saying.
"Apparently in the ensuing year the confusing part overtook him," Bauman said.
Dyson refused to be drawn into battle with Bauman, saying he will not do so until the Republicans choose their candidate in the primary.
As for his four votes in favor of budgets designed differently to appeal to liberals, conservatives or moderates, Dyson said he felt they all had one thing in common: "Any of the four would have been good in achieving one thing the financial community and my constituents want to see--reduction of the deficit." Indeed, all would have cut the proposed deficit by about $100 billion.
"Very few of my constituents even know the difference between these budgets," he said. "They just say time and again, cut the deficit."
Still, Dyson, whose sprawling district is staunchly conservative, seemed to have the most difficulty going on the record for the plan offered by Republicans and designed to appeal to constituents like his own.
Thursday night, as the House chamber's electronic voting system flashed off the seconds left in the 15-minute voting period, Dyson paced the floor, talked with colleagues, toyed with the plastic computer card each member of Congress uses to vote and watched the count changing on the tote board.
With the bright red numbers showing the Republican plan headed for defeat and 35 seconds left to vote, Dyson punched in his card with an "aye" vote.
"Maybe he wanted to vote for it, and be able to say he had gone Republican, as long as the plan didn't win," a GOP aide suggested yesterday.
Dyson would hardly honor that suggestion with a reply, except for the comment, "I vote late a lot of times."