The Next Chairmen: Congress Poised to Get New Money Men

Posted September 4, 2003 at 3:15pm

When the 109th Congress convenes in 2005, Republican-imposed term limits on committee chairmen virtually guarantee a complicated shuffle at the top of many powerful panels and, in some cases, a potentially dramatic shift in policy focus.

Come January 2005, as many as five Senate GOP chairmen will finally have to face the six-year term limits they successfully evaded by changing Republican Conference rules at the end of last year. (And even if Republicans lose the Senate majority in the 2004 elections, all five will still be required to relinquish their ranking minority status on their current panels.)

In the end, other factors and chairman shifts could cause wholesale changes on as many as eight Senate panels, with several current powerhouse chairmen having to settle for much less influential posts.

House committees, which experienced the upheaval of 15 chairmen at the beginning of the 107th Congress, are expected to remain relatively stable, with the exception of Appropriations and Intelligence.

The most radical changes will be at the top of arguably the two most powerful and coveted committees in Congress — the House and Senate Appropriations panels, which control the nation’s purse strings.

Both Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) will hit their term limits at the end of the 108th Congress.

The quietly ambitious Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has been preparing to take over the Senate panel from the more outspoken Stevens for nearly three years now.

Cochran was prevented from grabbing the gavel this year because the Republican Conference voted last summer to allow Stevens and other term-limited GOP chairmen to keep their spots through the 108th Congress. Under the original rules, Stevens would have been forced out at the beginning of this year. But the new rule was adopted to compensate chairmen who were demoted to ranking members following the surprise Democratic takeover of the chamber in June 2001.

Not all of Stevens’ appropriations power will be lost in the shift. He will continue to serve as a rank-and-file member of the panel and is likely to retain his chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations subcommittee on Defense.

In addition, Stevens is in line to take over the gavel at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). While the Commerce panel is extremely influential on technology and telecommunications, as well as a magnet for campaign contributions, it is still a far cry from the power Stevens currently wields on Appropriations.

Because GOP House leaders long ago abandoned seniority as a factor in determining who should become chairman, the House Appropriations power shift is expected to be far more dramatic and uncertain.

The influence afforded the winner has caused some Members to begin jockeying for the best position from which to snag the gavel more than a year before the 109th Congress convenes.

All of the contenders know that they have to prove their fundraising prowess and loyalty to the GOP leadership in order to win approval from the House Republican Steering Committee.

Under traditional seniority, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) — second in rank only to Young — is next in line at the spending panel.

But the 16-term Regula, who has never been a zealous fundraiser, has gotten a slower start than his competitors — Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who sit just one and two rungs below him, respectively. Both are believed to be strong candidates to leapfrog Regula based on their proven fundraising abilities.

Still, Regula, who currently chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, has reportedly decided to get into the hunt and start the all-important job of raising money to dole out to GOP candidates in the 2004 elections.

“I’d like to become chairman,” Regula told an Ohio newspaper in mid-August. “I’m leaning that way.”

Regula told The Repository of Canton that he expected to have a leadership political action committee up and running within a matter of weeks.

According to the June 30 Federal Election Commission filings, Regula has about $92,000 on hand in his re-election campaign account. That stands in stark contrast to his rivals.

Lewis is sitting on a campaign war chest of $1.2 million and has $188,000 in his Future Leaders PAC account as of June 30. Rogers reported having $977,000 in his re-election fund and $201,000 parked in his leadership committee, the Help America’s Leaders PAC.

Regula could make up some ground in the money chase by accepting special-interest PAC donations for his leadership committee, something he has rarely done in the past. He told The Repository he would continue to shun such donations to his re-election campaign, but may collect PAC money in his leadership kitty.

Still, Regula’s reputation as a moderate — he is co-chairman of the Republican Main Street Partnership — could work against him with his more conservative colleagues on the Steering Committee.

While no one is openly campaigning for the gavel, Lewis spokesman Jim Specht said his boss — who currently leads the powerful House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense — is “very interested in being chairman and wants to be considered.”

Lewis has said that he supports “regular order,” meaning following seniority. But Specht said his boss understands that since his party took over the House following the 1994 elections, choice chairmanships are not doled out solely on the basis of rank. Therefore he has not pledged to take himself out of the running.

The shakeups on the Appropriations panels are just the beginning of a long line of committee changes expected in the 109th Congress, particularly in the Senate.

For example, in order for Cochran to take over Senate Appropriations, he will have to surrender the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee. That vacancy gives current Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) the chance to reprise a role he held in the House as chairman of its Agriculture panel before being elected to the Senate.

Though his House chairmanship was brief, Roberts is widely credited with crafting the Freedom to Farm bill, which phased out some federal agricultural subsidies, in the 104th Congress.

While GOP term limits would technically allow Roberts to serve four more years as Intelligence chairman, his tenure on the panel will likely have to end at the conclusion of this Congress because of bipartisan Senate rules limiting Intelligence Committee service to a total of eight years.

However, Roberts could get an informal waiver from the rule if both the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders sign off, an Intelligence aide said. Former Chairman Bob Graham (D-Fla.) was granted such a waiver during the 107th Congress, the aide noted.

If Roberts elects to take the spot on Agriculture, the second-most senior Republican on the Intelligence panel, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would also have to seek a waiver to serve as chairman because, without one, his service on the panel will terminate in January 2005.

If no waivers are sought or granted, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) would ascend to the top of the heap. He could serve for two years as chairman before hitting his eight-year limit.

Asking for a waiver to continue on the Intelligence panel as its new chairman could be a welcome move for Hatch, who is due to give up his coveted gavel at the Judiciary Committee.

Some conservatives have complained about Hatch over the years, charging that he’s too willing to compromise with Democrats. But conservatives are likely to find Hatch more preferable than the man next in line for the chairmanship — moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

Though current Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) outranks Specter on Judiciary, Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny confirmed he would rather retain control of the tax and revenue panel for the remaining five years of his term as chairman.

Specter, a former prosecutor and active panel member, has been hankering to head Judiciary for years and even offered an amendment to the GOP Conference rules change last year that would have allowed him to take over Judiciary at the beginning of this year.

However, the expectation that he would more aggressively supervise the Justice Department and the FBI does not sit well with some in the Bush administration or with conservative Senators.

Specter has repeatedly called on Hatch to hold more oversight hearings, especially into allegations that Justice and the FBI may have violated the civil rights of some citizens and immigrants during the war on terrorism.

As a moderate Republican, Specter would be much less inclined than Hatch to use the panel to curb abortion rights, and he could find himself at odds with the committee’s reliably conservative Republican Members when it comes to controversial judicial nominees.

So far this year, Specter has been a reluctant vote for many of Bush’s nominees who are under filibuster or opposed by the Democratic minority. Specter, who is facing a divisive GOP primary fight with Rep. Pat Toomey (Pa.), first has to win reelection in order to guarantee a shot at the chairmanship.

If Specter assumes the Judiciary chairmanship, his Veterans’ Affairs panel will likely fall under the control of Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.).

Campbell’s reign as Indian Affairs chairman expires this year.

Assuming that Stevens takes over the Commerce chairmanship, McCain’s only option to remain among the chairman ranks would be to take over Indian Affairs from Campbell. McCain’s state is home to several American Indian reservations and tribes.

Though Indian Affairs is perhaps the least influential panel in the Senate, McCain need only wait until the 110th Congress when he will be in line to assume control of the Armed Services Committee from current Chairman John Warner (R-Va.).

If Budget Chairman Don Nickles (R-Okla.) retires, even more changes could ensue. He has said he will make a decision by the end of this year on whether to run for re-election in 2004.

If he does not run, the Budget chairmanship could go to current Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who still has more than five years left in his HELP term.

Both Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who gave up the Budget committee this year to lead the Energy and Natural Resources panel, and Grassley outrank Gregg on Budget. But neither Domenici nor Grassley is likely to surrender his gavel to head up Budget, according to aides.

If Gregg passes on the job, the Budget chairmanship would then likely go to Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.). But if Gregg took the Budget post, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) would be in line to lead HELP. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) outranks Enzi on the panel but is blocked from any chairmanship because of his leadership position.

Back in the House, another new powerful chairman could be born in 2005, though no one appears to be vying for the opportunity just yet.

Rules Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) is currently serving his third tour as head of the omnipotent panel and therefore would technically be barred from beginning a fourth term next Congress.

But unlike most of the other 21 House committees, the Rules chairman serves at the pleasure of the Speaker and is not chosen by the Steering Committee. So Dreier could be granted a waiver and re-appointed.

Thus, no one is looking that far into the future, according to staffers for both Dreier and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

“It’s too early to speculate on that,” Hastert spokesman John Feehery said.

Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) is next in line for Rules, but has already announced his retirement at the end of his current term. Next up is Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), but right behind him is GOP Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio), who could be interested in the Rules post.

In addition to prodigious fundraisers, the GOP House leadership favors those who have served the party faithfully in the past when deciding whom to tap and whom to skip.

Pryce would qualify as both and would be the first woman to head such a powerful panel. Pryce had $547,000 in her campaign fund and about $129,000 in her leadership PAC, known as the Pryce Project.

Goss’ retirement also puts the House Intelligence Committee’s gavel on the block. As a select committee, that chairman is also chosen by Hastert without input from the Steering Committee.

Goss was given a waiver this Congress to bust his term limit. Rep. Doug Beureuter (R-Neb.) is next in line, though Hastert could choose whomever he wishes.

Neither Senate Democrats nor House Democrats place term limits on chairmen or ranking members.