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Oregon's Republican Mavericks


If Speaker Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" gets the come-down it deserves, don't put all the credit or blame on the Democrats. Oregon's two Republican senators are using extraordinary positions of power -- Mark Hatfield as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Bob Packwood as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee -- to obstruct the Gingrich Contract.

Mr. Hatfield has already cast the lone GOP vote against the Balanced Budget Amendment -- a vote that caused the one-vote defeat of Mr. Gingrich's centerpiece proposal. And Mr. Packwood has announced his opposition to the huge tax cuts the speaker is pushing through the House of Representatives. "The best thing we can do for the taxpayers of this country is just try to move toward deficit reduction," he said over the weekend.

These contrarian stands are very much in the moderate, maverick tradition of Oregon, which combines a strong streak of liberalism with a kind of ornery individualism. Fiery former Sen. Wayne Morse epitomized these qualities as he made his political journey from the GOP to the Democratic Party a generation ago. Mr. Hatfield and Mr. Packwood, despite differences with one another on a variety of issues, have done their part to maintain the Morse tradition.

Only one other state has ever held simultaneous control of the two pivotal money committees in the Senate. Louisiana Sens. Allen Ellender and Russell B. Long held both purse strings in 1971-72. Senators Hatfield and Packwood, first elected to the Senate in the 1960s, won the same status in 1985-86 when Republicans controlled the Senate in the Reagan era, then returned to their twin chairmanships after last November's GOP sweep.

Ironically, their out-front opposition to excesses in the Gingrich program comes at a time when both senators are serving under a cloud.

Mr. Hatfield was rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee in August 1992 for accepting and failing to report $43,000 in gifts from 1983 to 1988. It has long been assumed he would not run for re-election in 1996, but attacks on him by right-wing Republicans for his vote against the gimmicky Budget Amendment, which brought him acclaim back home, may change his mind.

As for Mr. Packwood, he has successfully resisted calls for his resignation on sexual harassment changes, saying he could still be an effective senator. Long an advocate of feminist causes, his stand against Gingrich tax cuts could assuage some liberals-turned-critics. Especially if his committee blocks Gingrich tax cuts for the wealthy.

Whatever the outcome of this year's battles, Oregon's two senators are adhering to the best in their state's traditions by their opposition to the Gingrich stampede. They are truly pouring the boiling coffee of House passions into the cooling saucer of Senate deliberation.

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