Feb. 6, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Congress Loses Deep Legislative Experience

Election Day defeats, retirements and departures for jobs in the Obama administration will leave Democrats and Republicans without key legislative dealmakers in the 111th Congress.

The defeat of Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska), currently the longest-serving GOP Senator, will have a significant effect on the appropriations process and could influence energy and environmental policy as well.

Stevens has led or served in leadership slots on the Appropriations Committee for the past quarter century, where has been an unabashed backer of earmarking. He has directed billions of dollars to his home state of Alaska, often securing support by doling out earmarks to other Members.

Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Stevens presided over a massive increase of earmarks during his tenure as head of the Appropriations Committee, which he chaired from 1997 to 2005, except for 18 months when the Democrats controlled the Senate.

“It’s certainly one of his legacies,” Ellis said.

In recent years, Stevens led the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, where one of his major accomplishments was the 2005 legislation to hasten the switch to digital television.

The next year, however, Stevens failed to advance a sweeping telecommunications bill. The debate over that legislation led to his widely mocked description of the Internet as “a series of tubes.”

Stevens, whose first wife died in a plane crash in 1978, is also considered a strong advocate for airline safety, as well as for oil and gas interests that are an economic mainstay of Alaska. He has been a fierce proponent of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, calling the Senate’s 2005 rejection of an ANWR bill that he authored “the saddest day of my life.”

At least two Democratic Senators are leaving because they have been offered plum jobs by the Obama administration. No Democratic incumbents lost their Senate seats in this fall’s election.

Vice President-elect Joseph Biden (D-Del.) will resign after more than three decades in the Senate. Biden has been a leading voice on foreign policy issues as chairman or ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee since 1997, and his close ties with foreign leaders are a key reason Obama selected him.

Biden is also a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, where he oversaw several Supreme Court nominations and championed women’s rights and crime legislation. He’s expected to use that experience to help shepherd Obama court nominees through the Senate.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is also expected to give up her seat to become secretary of State. While lacking in Senate seniority, Clinton has been a key voice on health care issues and earned her foreign policy stripes on the Armed Services Committee.

The retirement of longtime GOP Sens. John Warner (Va.) and Pete Domenici (N.M.) will leave the chamber without two of its top moderates who have shown a willingness to work with Democrats.

Domenici’s greatest legislative accomplishments came as chairman or ranking member of the Budget Committee for more than two decades, where he was the leading GOP budget hawk and sparred with House Republicans over tax cuts in the 1990s.

Since leaving the helm of that panel, Domenici has focused most of his effort over the past decade on promoting nuclear power, and the industry earlier this year credited his support for spawning a nuclear revival.

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