Congressman, lawyer. Spratt was born on November 1, 1942, in Charlotte, North Carolina, the son of John Spratt and Jane Bratton. He grew up in York, South Carolina, where his father practiced law and was an influential figure in state politics. At York High School, John Jr. played football and served as president of the student body in his senior year. In 1964 he received a bachelor’s degree in history from Davidson College, where he served as student body president. He continued his studies in philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford University in England, where he was a Marshall Scholar and earned a master’s degree in 1966. Returning to the United States, he received his law degree from Yale Law School three years later. While attending Yale, Spratt married Jane Stacy on May 30, 1968. They are the parents of three daughters.
From 1969 to 1971 Spratt served on the staff of the assistant secretary of defense, the Pentagon’s chief budget officer. During his military service, he worked primarily with budget problems in weapons procurement. He received the army’s Meritorious Service Medal and left active duty with the rank of captain. Returning to York in 1971, Spratt immersed himself in the law firm of Spratt, McKeown and Spratt, and he became an influential figure in the economic and social life of the community.
In 1982 Spratt ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, seeking the congressional seat being vacated by retiring Fifth District representative Kenneth Holland. Victorious in his first attempt at elective office, Spratt entered Congress in 1983 and garnered seats on three key House committees: Budget, Armed Services, and Government Reform and Oversight. During the 1980s Spratt gained recognition by chairing the Armed Services’ Military Application of Nuclear Energy Panel (1989–1994) and the Strategic Defense Initiative Panel (1988). The voters of his district reelected him in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, and 1992.
The shifting political landscape of the Fifth Congressional District, which has never elected a Republican, gave Spratt a stiff challenge in 1994 when the Republican Party candidate nearly defeated Spratt. Spratt kept his seat, however, and easily won reelection in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2004.
Accumulating seniority, Spratt concentrated on the debate over the national budget. By 1997 he was the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee and was a key negotiator of a balanced budget agreement passed that year. He also continued as the second-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
In early 2003 Spratt was chosen by his fellow Democrats as assistant to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California. He has frequently spoken to the nation, through the media and before a wide range of audiences, on fiscal matters and issues of national defense. His two decades of congressional service have earned for him honorary degrees from the University of South Carolina, Winthrop University, Presbyterian College, Newberry College, and Limestone College. He has also received the Governor’s Award in the Humanities and the Order of the Palmetto.