The 95th was supposed to be a liberal Democratic Congress. Democrats in the House, at 292, number two more than two-thirds of the members when the session began in January.
But the 95th hasn't turned out as expected.
Six months into the session, Argyll Campbell of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says, "We're pleasnatly surprised about Congress, particularly with the younger House members." Leon Shull of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, on the other hand, says, "We're considerably distressed."
"Jimmy Carter's been somewhat to the left of what I expected, but Congress has been somewhat to the right. There's no doubt the House is in a conservative mood," adds House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.).
"This is a Jekyll and Hyde Congress," Wisconsin liberal Democrat David Obey says. "The polite term for it is cautious. A more frank term is lack of guts."
Earlier in the year, the House voted to beef up traditionally liberal spending programs. It upped the ante on an economic stimulus package, adding more money for jobs than President Carter wanted. It also budgeted and appropriated more money for social programs than Carter wanted.
But in recent months votes on everything from social issues to defense show the House making a sharp right turn.
The House voted:
To stiffen its ban on federal funds for abortion, including even abortions necessary to save the life of the mother.
To widen its ban on using federal funds for busing.
To deny veterans' benefits to Vietnam veterans whose discharges Carter wanted to upgrade under his amnesty program.
To prevent the Food and Drug Administration from banning saccharin.
To deny permission for the United States to fund any loans made through international banks to Cuba or countries in Indochina or Africa whose leadership is Communist-dominated or offends us (Uganda).
To cut foreign aid programs by 5 per cent and to cut Carter's request for foreign aid by almost a billion dollars.
To deny public housing or federally funded legal services to homosexuals.
The House voted to funding the B-1 bomber, although before Carter announced he was against it. It voted earlier against a labor-supported bill to broaden picketing at construction sites, and it needed two tries before it succeeded in passing a bill labor wanted repealing the Hatch Act and allowing federal workers to participate in politics - even though those bills passed by large margins last year.
It took two attempts to keep the House from increasing defense spending in the congressional budget.
Even in areas where Carter has taken a "liberal" stand, such as on environmental, consumer or electoral reform issues, the House has either voted against the legislation or shelved it because the votes to pass it were lacking.
Carter's plea that the lawmakers toughen auto emission standards in the Clean Air Act went unheeded, and the House voted to weaken the standards. A bill to establish and agency for consumer protection remains in deep trouble; so does a same day voting registration bill Carter wants and so does Carter's pet bill to stiffen the government's authority to recapture excessive profits on defense contracts.
In energy, large portions of Carter's package have been rjected in House committees, although the final outcome remains to be seen.
Why the House is in a mood that is at the least "cautious" and at most conservative is harder to answer.
Senior Democrats tend to blame it on younger members, their antigovernment beliefs and their fear of losing elections.
Younger members blame it on senior members, whose attitude toward equal rights, abortion and homosexuals they believe remains "uptight."
Some say Carter has set a conservative tone and the House has simply been carried away by it.
Many credit cohesive and vigorous lobbying by business and right-wing groups. They say business, "right-to-life" and "right-to-work" lobbyists are better organized than they've been in years and have learned to generate massive, effective grass roots letter-writing campaigns. At the same time, labor and liberal lobbyists have become sloppy or complacent.
And, some way, the House, subjects to elections every two years, is simply a barometer of the public mood and the House is responding to a malaise, an uneasiness, a distemper in the country.
Rep. Tom Foley (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the 60 per cent of House Democrats elected since 1970 are simply more independent than senior member and refuse to be guided by either the leadership, committee chairman or the position of the committee.
"When the whips stand at the doors and tell the members, 'The committee wants you to vote with them on this,' the younger members say, 'Don't tell me what the committee wants, tell me what the issue is.'"
Foley also cites what he calls "a loss of faith" in the traditional liberal approach. "In '50s and '60s the goals were clear, we wanted to clean up the environment, break down discrimination, help the poor. Now those basic programs are enacted and it's more a refinement or reassessment that's going on. It was clear we wanted to clean up the air, but it's not clear whether it's necessary to clean up 87 per cent of carbon monoxide or whether 80 per cent is enough."
He said nitpicking regulations by agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have helped give government a bad name.
Democratic Whip John Brademas (D-Ind.) said that on issues such as human rights and the consumer protection agency "the President has been the victim of his own campaign rhetoric."
Carter campaigned against big government and the bureaucracy and members are only being "consistent" in not wanting to form another bureaucracy in the consumer protection agency, he said.
"In some areas, particularly civil liberties we're going backwards," "said Rep. Norman Mineta (D-Clif.).
"The country is back in the emotional mindest of the '50s," Obey said. On issues like abortion and busing, he said members "are simply not willing to go through the agony of explaining an unpopular vote."
"The only group doing any effective lobbying right now is the right wing," Obey said. "Labor has lost its ability to communicate with the grass roots. Labor is ineffective and (Ralph) Nader is a debit rather than a credit. Members are just fed up with being equated with evil if they vote against Nader."
"The business community took a look at the election returns and just reacted," Rep. Charles Rose (D-S.C.) said. "They decided with Carter in the White House and a Democratic Congress they'd have to work like hell 'cause there wouldn't be any vetoes they could count on."
"We realized we'd have to hustle," said Campbell of the Chamber of Commerce. But he also cited the anti-government mood that the younger members reflect.
"Compared to their older colleagues, they're much more open to persuasion. They're bright and energetic and you have to win them on the arguments. But they are reacting to the feedback from the country that the government is already too deep into our lives. It should be halted. And look, we realize there's a skepticism about big business. But labor unions are taking it on the chin too. Polls show them even lower in the standings than we are. That gives us an opening."
Mineta, a second termer. "In some ways we are the kin of Jimmy Carter. We're his natural constituency in the House." Mineta said Carter and the 120 freshmen and sophomores agreed on issues like holding back spending and cutting down on government. "Sunset laws, zero base budgeting find us natural allies, he said.
Mineta believes it's the older members who are "rolling back the legislative gains in civil liberties issues. I think it's the newer members who are trying to hold the line."
A look at some key votes proves all sides right. In other words there is no patterns. On the issue of allowing homosexuals to have federally funded legal counsel, freshman and sophomore Democrats were the ones with "guts" to support the homosexuals.
The 120 freshman and sophomore Democrats who make up about 40 per cent of the 292 Democrats in the House made up about 40 per cent of the 103 Democrats who voted to strengthen the antiabortion language, they made up about one-third of the Democrats who voted against labor in the common site picketing bill; they made up about half the Democrats who voted to cut foreign aid by 5 per cent but they were less than a third of the Democrats who voted to weaken clean air standards.
On abortion, the Democratic votes for the tougher stand clearly came from big city and suburban areas with large Catholic populatoins.On common site, the Democratic votes against labor clearly came from the "right-to-work" South. Other votes showed neither a regional nor an ideological pattern.
"This is the best scheduled, the best led> the best organized and by far the hardest working Congress I've ever served in," Obey said."It's also the most frustrating."
"People don't know what they want. They're skittish. They're all right now but there is some fear about what's around the corner. Congress doesn't know how to read that mood. But they sense the unease. That makes them cautious." Republican leader John B. Anderson said, "in any case it's clear Congress isn't going to serve up that yeasty [WORD ILLEGIBLE] that was expected."
Anderson added, "Wouldn't it be ironic if after all that ballyhoo this was kind of a new Eisenhower era?"