Byrd Seen as Top Democrat On Homeland

Posted February 28, 2003 at 6:12pm

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee shuffle is set to conclude early this week, with Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) expected to take the top Democratic slot on the new Homeland Security spending panel.

Aides to Byrd, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said he hopes to sit down with Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) today to finalize changes to the makeup of the committee and its subcommittees.

The biggest change, for sure, will be the creation of the Homeland Security panel, and several Democratic sources said Byrd is expected to use his seniority to claim the ranking member’s post on that subcommittee.

That would give the 85-year-old West Virginian even more oversight of the roughly $36 billion agency, which President Bush officially inaugurated Friday. Last fall, Byrd fought passionately against the creation of the new department, arguing that Congress was being hasty in approving a massive reorganization of the executive branch.

Aides to Byrd, however, insisted no plans have been finalized for the committee, not even his own subcommittee selection, something that won’t become official until after the meeting with Stevens.

Assuming Byrd claims the homeland spot, it’s increasingly likely that his counterpart will be Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who is second in GOP seniority on Appropriations. Stevens will stay as the cardinal of the subcommittee on Defense, leaving Cochran the option of taking over the homeland panel.

But Cochran’s office declined to confirm what his final decision would be. “He’s going to consider his options, but we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Beth Day, a Cochran spokeswoman.

One Democratic aide said the Homeland Security subcommittee is expected to have a roster of eight Republicans and seven Democrats. Aides said the Democratic lineup on Homeland Security will consist almost entirely of the most senior members of the full committee, including Byrd and Sens. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

It’s unclear on the Republican side how many of their veteran appropriators will jump onto the new subcommittee. But Cochran’s expected departure from the Agriculture subcommittee chairmanship opens up a panel for some junior Republicans on Appropriations.

With Byrd’s pending departure from the Interior subcommittee, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) is expected to become ranking member at that panel, several aides said.

Stevens is following the lead of House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) in reshaping his panel to accommodate the new security agency. Nonsecurity issues from the old subcommittee on Transportation are being merged with the Treasury-Postal Service subcommittee, creating what some are calling “Treas-Trans” or the “T&T” panel.

Aides said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who was the top Democrat on the Transportation panel last Congress, would take over the newly merged subcommittee this year. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) would likely serve as that panel’s cardinal, unless the ripple effect from Cochran’s departure at Agriculture created a more enticing opening at one of the other subcommittees.