Frist Seeks Greater Share of Panel Resources

Posted December 7, 2004 at 3:01pm

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) will seek to solidify his party’s control over the chamber’s committees by insisting Democrats accept budget and staff cuts in the new Congress.

Frist and incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have already agreed to a two-seat Republican majority on the panels to reflect GOP gains made in November.

The Majority Leader is now pushing for Republicans to receive a greater share of funds to staff and run committees, as well as additional office space for GOP aides.

Republicans will have a 55-to-45 seat advantage over Democrats when the 109th Congress convenes. Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) routinely votes with Democrats.

Specifically, Frist is seeking a division that would give Republicans control of two-thirds of the committee budgets, leaving Democrats with just a third of panel funds.

”Senator Frist is seeking to return to the traditional funding level and staff allocations of a Senate divided as this one is, 55 to 45,” said Amy Call, Frist’s spokeswoman.

A Reid spokeswoman said there has not been any formal offer made by Frist’s office, but vowed to fight the two-thirds/one-third proposal. The Reid aide suggested a “practical and reasonable offer” would be a 55 percent to 45 percent split to mirror the Republican majority next year.

“It is unfortunate that Senator Frist’s office would choose to begin negotiating through a newspaper,” the spokeswoman said. “And he has not contacted our office.”

”Negotiating through a newspaper isn’t appropriate,” the spokeswoman added. It is not clear if Democrats would filibuster the committee resolution should they fail to reach a compromise with Republicans on the issue.

The GOP plan would likely require Democrats to lay off staffers in a town where the job market for the minority party is already bleak. Republicans currently control the

White House, House and Senate, a situation that will almost certainly remain unchanged in the 109th Congress.

For the past three years committee funding and staff ratios has been largely evenly split — a result of the near political parity in the chamber. In past Congresses where a one party had a clear majority the committee ratio has been a two-thirds/one-third split.

The one committee not affected by the negotiations is the Ethics Committee, which historically is evenly divided.