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Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company  
The New York Times

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October 3, 2000, Tuesday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section B; Page 1; Column 1; Metropolitan Desk 

LENGTH: 1494 words

HEADLINE: Franks Record Displays Skill In Legislative Deal Making



   For nearly two weeks now, Jon S. Corzine has been blasting his Republican opponent for the Senate, Representative Bob Franks, as a Newt Gingrich puppet and right-wing Grinch who tried to steal old people's Medicare entitlements.

But a look at Mr. Franks's seven years in the House of Representatives discloses a man who may talk a good conservative line at times but who actually occupies the capacious center-right middle ground where so many other Northeastern Republicans have made their careers. Mr. Franks defends basic abortion rights but is willing to see their application limited, for example. He usually lets the environment trump private property, but not always. He supports Republican -- and suburban -- antitax positions but is far more liberal on gun control than most Republicans.

"Just the way Democrats talk a fabulous liberal game about oppression and suffering but end up voting the goodies for the middle class they need to get elected," David Rebovich, a political scientist at Rider University said, "Bob Franks may have talked a conservative game, but he really hasn't deviated very much from the mainstream middle of New Jersey Republicanism."

In fact, Mr. Franks is less likely to be defined by his stands on issues than by his skills as a Republican leader and strategist and as legislative deal maker.

"I've always seen him as a fiscal conservative and a procedural populist," said Stephen A. Salmore, a retired Rutgers political scientist and Republican campaign consultant who has never worked for Mr. Franks.

"He's someone who knows how to go about building coalitions and putting together grass-roots support for legislation."

Mr. Salmore added, "He's willing to take risks -- he was for term limits when most of the people in the party were running away from the idea."

Over the years, Mr. Franks's most consistent position was against taxes and in favor of spending cuts, including when those cuts involved reductions in social programs he generally favors. The measure Mr. Corzine condemned him for supporting, the 1995 budget omnibus bill, contained cuts in Medicare spending over several years, for example, although Mr. Franks insists that he voted for the measure only because he knew it would not survive the more moderate Senate. In fact, the Medicare elements in the bill were softened before they became law.

"It's interesting to hear Mr. Corzine attacking the hard choices I had to make," Mr. Franks said in an interview, "because those hard choices brought about the first balanced budget in a generation and have created the foundation for the prosperity America is enjoying today."

Mr. Franks's conservatism was also displayed on crime bills and foreign policy, where he generally held to the Republican position, including support for the immediate deployment of an antimissile defense system. In 1994, he voted against keeping United States troops in Haiti and a year later, against the president and in favor of ending the United States arms embargo against Bosnians resisting Serb fighters. But a 1996 antiterrorism bill sponsored by southern conservatives that would have denied some constitutional protections to aliens was too strong for Mr. Franks, who backed the president in opposing it.

On campaign finance and Congressional ethics issues, Mr. Franks shows a consistent Republican dislike for new regulations. In 1993, he voted against limiting outside money in Congressional races in return for federal funding of them, and in 1994 he voted against tightening restrictions on lobbyists' gifts to members of Congress. But in 1999, he voted for a bill that set limits on soft money and issue campaigns in elections. The appeal of that bill, to the dismay of many Democrats, was that it required unions to tell their members what part of their dues were spent on political programs.

Mr. Franks acquired a reputation for caution early in his years in the New Jersey State Legislature, and it emerged in Washington during the impeachment debate. To the consternation of Republican leaders, Mr. Franks did not commit himself to a pro-impeachment vote until the last minute, believing, he says, that the president might avoid the vote by confessing and apologizing.

Abortion and reproductive-rights bills came up nearly every year of Mr. Franks's tenure, and his votes show a man threading his way through an ideological minefield.

In 1993, he voted against the Hyde Amendment to the welfare law, which would have banned federal financing of abortion services for the poor except in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother's like was in danger. The measure did not pass. In 1994, he supported the administration position by voting to establish federal criminal and civil penalties for using or threatening force to block abortion clinics or against patients and workers in them.

In the next three years, Mr. Franks voted consistently with the rest of his party in support of measures to ban the so-called partial birth abortion procedure, measures that either did not pass the Senate or the President's veto. The partial birth abortion bill in 1997 went further than most, rejecting even exceptions for the woman's health, and although even a handful of Republicans considered the bill too harsh to support, Mr. Franks voted for it.

In 1999, Mr. Franks supported the fetal protection bill, which the administration opposed. The bill recognized the fetus as a separate being under federal law and imposed penalties for injuring the fetus in a crime against a pregnant woman. The bill passed the House and Senate but not by enough to overcome a promised presidential veto.

Mr. Franks has consistently supported rights to contraception, however, and in 1998 he voted with 47 other Republicans for a bill by Nita M. Lowey, a New York Democrat, requiring health plans for federal workers to include prescription plans with contraceptive coverage.

Similarly, Mr. Franks has supported Democratic-backed measures extending health protection generally. In one of his first votes in Congress in 1993, he voted for one of President Clinton's key campaign pledges, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees workers unpaid time off to care for a new baby or a sick family member.

On managed care, Mr. Franks has tried to walk a fine line between the Democrats, who favored handing patients broader rights to sue their health maintenance organizations over care and reimbursements, and the Republican leadership, which has been more concerned with protecting the emerging managed care system from lawsuits.

In 1998, Mr. Franks voted for a Republican leadership bill opposed by the Clinton administration that tried to split the differences. It would have created a two-step appeals process for patients and expanded opportunities for private medical care savings accounts.

The Senate did not take up this measure, and the next year Mr. Franks voted against his leadership and with the administration for an alternate Patients' Bill of Rights that enforced coverage for emergency room visits and for gynecological and pediatric care, and that allowed patients or their heirs to sue in state court in cases of injury or death from an H.M.O.'s coverage decision. The measure has passed the House of Representatives but has not yet been taken up by the Senate.

Also in 1999, Mr. Franks voted with a wide majority for a law outlawing physician-assisted suicide, a measure aimed at overturning the Oregon law that allows the practice within strict guidelines.

Gun control advocates have usually been able to count on Mr. Franks's vote. In 1993, he voted with 53 other Republicans in favor of the administration's Brady Bill, which imposed a five-day waiting period on all handgun purchases to allow for background checks on the buyer. He helped the administration again in 1994 by voting for the president's assault weapons ban against certain high-capacity semiautomatic rifles.

And in 1999, he voted to reject, along with many gun control advocates, a jumbled proposal to require background checks before guns could be sold at gun shows. The law provided only 24 hours for the checks, causing even gun control advocates to consider it worthless.

Although Mr. Franks has not made a name for himself as a champion of a particular cause, he has consistently come down hard on law and order issues, as befits the concerns of his mostly suburban constituency. He has introduced legislation to limit the comforts of life in federal prisons, for example, by limiting the playing of musical instruments to one hour a day and banning all hot plates.

In 1994, Mr. Franks and a minority of other House Republicans voted with the administration for the final version of the Omnibus Crime Bill, a massive prison-building and police-recruiting measure that banned several new kinds of semiautomatic weapons but contained millions for measures like afterschool programs for young people.

GRAPHIC: Photos: Representative Bob Franks of New Jersey is known for putting together grass-roots support for legislation. Discussing budget matters with Mr. Franks, center, in a Senate hallway in 1997 were, from left, David J. Hoppe, chief of staff to Senator Trent Lott, and Representatives John R. Kasich of Ohio, Gary A. Condit of California and Christopher Shays of Connecticut. (Paul Hosefros/The New York Times)(pg. B1); Representative Bob Franks meeting voters at a Republican fund-raiser in Ocean County, N.J., last week. (Laura Pedrick for The New York Times)(pg. B5)


LOAD-DATE: October 3, 2000

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