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Hatfield Remembered for Vote Against Balanced Budget Amendment

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The death of former Sen. Mark Hatfield on Sunday stirred up memories of his lonely stance against the balanced budget amendment on Capitol Hill.

Hatfield, 89, spent 30 years in the Senate as a Republican representing Oregon. A World War II veteran who had seen the devastation of the nuclear bomb, he was a staunch pacifist who voted against war.

But it was his decisive vote against a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget that was recalled the most this week, as Congress considers a second attempt.

In 1995, shortly after he became chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee once more, Hatfield found himself at odds with his colleagues. The House had just passed the balanced budget amendment and had sent it to the Senate. Two weeks before the vote went down, Hatfield announced he wouldn’t vote for the amendment. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) wasn’t worried, said Keith Kennedy, a former Hatfield staffer who worked for the Senator for 24 years. Dole figured he had enough votes on the Democratic side for it.

But as the vote drew closer, it soon became clear there wouldn’t be enough support from the Democrats. Hatfield was pressured to change his mind.

In the end, he was the only Republican and the deciding vote against the amendment. Had he voted for it, the amendment would have then gone to the states for passage.

“It was one of the most courageous votes I’ve ever seen,” Senate Historian Don Ritchie said. “He knew he was sacrificing his chairmanship [of the Senate Appropriations Committee] and his position as Senator. He couldn’t bring himself to vote for it.”

Hatfield was born on July 12, 1922, in Dallas, Ore. He graduated from Willamette University in 1943. He suffered his only election loss at his alma mater, when he ran for student body president.

Shortly afterward, he joined the Navy. He saw the destruction in Hiroshima after the United States dropped the atomic bomb, making him into a pacifist and shaping his future policy decisions.

Hatfield earned a master’s degree in political science from Stanford before returning to Willamette as a political science professor.

He first ran for political office in 1951, winning a seat in the state House of Representatives. This began a slew of political successes, as he later became a state Senator, the Oregon Secretary of State and, finally, governor. He beat then-Rep. Robert Duncan (D-Ore.) in the 1966 Senate election.

In the Senate’s oral history, Kennedy noted the first time he met Hatfield. While waiting for placement in an internship program, Kennedy had one request: “No Republicans.”

Despite the request, he was set up with Hatfield, with whom he would end up working for several years, eventually as majority staff director for the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Sen. Hatfield was not a very top-down kind of chairman,” Kennedy said in the oral history. “He didn’t seek to impose his own particular view of the world on the rest of the subcommittees. He would be moved to make recommendations, and subcommittee chairman would do what they could to accommodate him, but he didn’t attempt to dictate things to his subcommittee chairman colleagues.”

During his time in the Senate, Hatfield was an opponent of war, the death penalty and abortion. Along with Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), he introduced an amendment to end military operations in Vietnam in 1970. He also voted against the Persian Gulf War in 1990 and criticized President Bill Clinton for sending U.S. troops to Bosnia.

As Appropriations chairman during the 1980s, he found himself at odds with President Ronald Reagan, directing money away from defense spending and toward social programs.

Despite that, Hatfield held a regard for the presidency, Ritchie said. His office was decorated in President Abraham Lincoln paraphernalia, and he often said President Herbert Hoover, a fellow Oregonian and a candidate for whom his mother campaigned, was an underrated president. In 1981, he was chairman for Reagan’s inauguration, the first held on the West Front of the Capitol.

“He devoted quite a bit of attention to that,” Ritchie said.

While he was often mentioned as a candidate for the vice presidency — including in the 1960s to run on the ticket with President Richard Nixon — nothing ever came to fruition. One of his unfinished projects was a book about the vice presidency, Ritchie said.

“(Hatfield) thought people didn’t understand what the office meant,” he said. “That was something he wanted to change.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who first came to Capitol Hill as an intern for Hatfield in 1976, noted how the late Senator differed from other politicians.

“Sen. Hatfield took courageous positions of consciences — from opposing the Vietnam War to advocating for the abolition of the death penalty — in the face of substantial political opposition,” Merkley said in a statement. “He inspired many to public service, encouraging them to work to do what is right, rather than what is convenient or popular.”

Correction: Aug. 8, 2011

An earlier version of this article misstated Keith Kennedy's title. He is a former staffer of the late Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.).

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