Chairmen Seek End to Security Panel

Posted March 24, 2004 at 6:21pm

Even as the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks wrapped up two days of hearings on Capitol Hill this week, several powerful House chairmen, backed by their Democratic counterparts, are seeking to get rid of the Select Homeland Security Committee heading into the 109th Congress.

Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), and Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) are among those who have joined the turf battle by coming out in opposition to any extension beyond the end of this session for the committee, which was created by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) just over a year ago.

But Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) and ranking member Jim Turner (D-Texas) are fighting back, insisting their panel fulfills a unique role and deserves permanent status, either as a standing or select committee. The two lawmakers have received backing from Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss (R-Fla.) and ranking member Jane Harman (D-Calif.), although neither wants to give up any jurisdiction either.

As a select committee, Homeland Security includes a Speaker-appointed lineup made up of the chairmen of the key standing committees, including Agriculture, Appropriations, Armed Services, Energy, Intelligence, Judiciary, Rules, and Science and Transportation. A number of those chairmen are leading the opposition to granting the Homeland Security panel permanent status.

Hastert himself wants to retain the committee, according to his aides, although he has not declared in what form he wants to see it continue. Former Speakers Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Tom Foley (D-Wash.) also support permanent status for the committee.

Sensenbrenner was among those leading the charge to get rid of the panel at a hearing on this issue Wednesday, called by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who chairs the Homeland Security subcommittee on rules.

“To state my position briefly, I believe that the Committee on Judiciary should retain jurisdiction over all matters that it has,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement. “In addition, while I am not opposed to a Committee on Homeland Security as such, I believe that the proponents of such a committee have the burden of proof, and that burden has not yet been satisfied.”

Barton, who has wielded the Energy gavel for only a month, said, “The Select Committee’s work here is done.” After listing all the hearings held by his committee under former Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.), Barton called the Homeland Security panel “an impediment to further progress.”

Agriculture Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said he is “skeptical of any effort to establish such a permanent standing committee.” Science Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) said, “I believe such a committee is likely to prove counter-productive.”

Most of the chairmen insisted that their panels are already doing oversight for the huge and relatively new Homeland Security Department and that having a committee devoted exclusively to that is duplicative and unnecessary.

Cox and Turner fought back, defending both the need for and jurisdiction of their committee. “To give homeland security the attention it demands from us, a separate branch of government and an entirely new discipline, Congress too must be restructured,” Cox said.

“I have said previously and will repeat again today: If you take homeland security seriously, you must reach the conclusion that there needs to be one committee in the House of Representatives with oversight and legislative jurisdiction over the functions of the Department of Homeland Security.”

Cox and Harman both spoke out in favor of keeping the committee, although they took no position on whether it should be a standing or select panel. Harman also voiced support for a “slimmed down” Homeland Security Committee. The current panel has 49 members and a budget of nearly $11 million.