Newsweek has led the media in labeling Democratic senator Lloyd Bentsen a “conservative,” saying, “On most major issues, the Democratic vice presidential candidate stands with Bush rather than his running mate.” However, a closer look at Bentsen’s voting record reveals that his views are much more in line with his running mate, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.
When Dukakis announced Bentsen as his running mate, in an effort to gain votes from “Reagan Democrats” and the South, he caught political observers off guard; Bentsen was supposedly a “conservative.” His conservativism stems from his support of contra funding, although he voted to authorize $75 million in U.S. aid to the Marxist Sandinista regime in 1980. But we need to look at the facts:
- Pro-abortion votes. Newsweek recently claimed that Bentsen is opposed to abortion, but his voting record reflects a radically different position. The Texas senator has consistently voted to weaken or abolish restrictions on the use of federal funds to finance abortions. On July 29, 1977, he voted to eliminate all prohibitions on the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, and then opposed an attempt to limit federal funding to instances where the mother’s life would be endangered by a full-term pregnancy.
In 1987, Bentsen opposed amendments to bar the use of federal or District of Columbia funds to pay for abortions in the District. He also voted against a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion.
- Fiscal policies. On the economy, Newsweek stated that Bentsen supports a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. Again, his voting record reflects an economic philosophy closer to his running mate, Dukakis, rather than Bush. He has voted to either increase taxes or prevent tax reductions. Although he commendably voted against a bill to hike taxes by nearly $100 billion for fiscal year 1983-1985, he later voted against an amendment expressing the sense of the senate that there should be no further tax increases until Congress reduced spending by $3 for every $1 in taxes gained from the 1982 bill (as it had pledged to do).
In 1987, he offered a motion to kill an amendment, which was approved, to express the sense of the Senate, “that the American taxpayer is already overburdened and that … federal tax rates should not be increased in any manner whatsoever, whether direct or indirect, and no new taxes should be created.”
He has also opposed many attempts to reduce the federal deficit by cutting spending. On March 31, 1987, the Senate considered an amendment to cut the Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) which spends around $225 million annually to encourage business and other investors to revitalize various projects. For example, $3.5 million was given to Florida to renovate hotels; $10 million was given to help develop a festival market mall in Philadelphia; and $15 million was given to clear a site for a new Chrysler Plant in Detroit. Bentsen voted against cutting funds for the program.
- Defense Issues. Although the media has often stated that Bentsen supports the Strategic Defense Initiative, again his record indicates otherwise. On September 17, 1987, he voted to uphold a two-year ban on any testing or development of the SDI that exceeded the narrowest possible interpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The day before that vote, he voted in favor of an amendment which express the sentiment of the Senate that the USSR violated the ABM Treaty. Why would he vote to uphold a ban when he believes the Soviets have violated the ABM Treaty?
Bentsen is one of the few remaining senators who voted in 1978 in favor of giving away the Panama Canal. This was in spite of polls, which demonstrated at the time that 80 percent of Americans opposed this move. According to the U.S./Panama Treaty signed by President Jimmy Carter on September 7, 1977, and ratified by the Senate by one vote, the U.S. agreed to turn over the canal to Panama in 1999.
The treaty was ratified in order to guarantee good relations with Panama and Latin America. However, Panama has no claim to the canal due to U.S. funding of its construction. The canal cost U.S. taxpayers $7 billion.
- Women’s Issues. Like his running mate, Bentsen is an avid supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. On March 22, 1972, he voted for the ERA. Prior to this vote, he opposed amendments to prevent the ERA from invalidating laws such as those exempting women from compulsory military service, or exempting women from combat duty. When it was obvious in 1978 that ERA had no chance of being ratified within its seven-year time limit, he voted for the 39-month extension of its ratification deadline.
The misrepresentation of Bentsen’s political philosophy and background is either ignorance or a deliberate attempt to mislead voters into believing that they are electing another conservative cut from the same cloth as George Bush. Bentsen’s actual voting record shows otherwise.