GOP Members' Loyalty Helps Land Plum Committee Seats
By Juliet Eilperin
"Every time Newt turned around, I was there," Foley recalled, rattling off big-ticket events from Los Angeles to New York. "I think at times he felt like I was gum on his shoe."
The payoff Foley hoped for would come after the election -- a seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee. Even though Gingrich will no longer run the House, Foley had raised the funds and cultivated the relationships that assured him his prize.
Foley's success illustrates the elaborate efforts lawmakers must exert to secure coveted spots on the "A" committees in the House. But it also reflects Speaker-designate Bob Livingston's approach to governing. Livingston (R-La.), who was chosen as speaker by House Republicans last Wednesday, announced new assignments to vacated committee seats Friday.
While Gingrich placed vulnerable freshmen on key committees, Livingston chose to distribute plum slots to more senior lawmakers. With the exception of retiring GOP Rep. Bill Paxon's successor, Thomas Reynolds (R-N.Y.), who landed a seat on the Rules Committee, no freshman gained entree into the exalted realm of select committees.
"Under Gingrich the philosophy was: Put people in tight races in the key committees, it helps them politically," said Foley, adding that Livingston "felt part of the structure of loyalty and leadership is earning that loyalty by giving people their just rewards."
Other aggressive GOP fund-raisers also landed spots on key panels: Reps. Scott McInnis (Colo.) and Ron Lewis (Ky.) will sit on Ways and Means, and Rep. John Shadegg (Ariz.) will join Commerce.
Brookings Institution congressional scholar Thomas Mann noted that while Gingrich needed to court the large freshman class that helped him capture the House in 1994, this year's small group of incoming Republicans does not wield the same degree of power. "Livingston's election did not depend on the 17 new members. The whole basis of his speakership is a return to regular order," Mann said.
Livingston had made his position known in the letter he faxed to Gingrich Nov. 6, the day he decided to challenge him for speaker. The ninth point in the 16-point manifesto read: "Members should not be assigned to Committees 'because of their districts.' Fragile members are afraid to cast tough votes, and that inhibits the passage of credible legislation."
Some strong allies of House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) did not fare so well in the committee assignment lottery: Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-Pa.), for one, was expecting a seat on the Appropriations panel with the retirement of Rep. Joseph M. McDade (R-Pa.), according to informed Republicans, but Livingston, who has fought with Armey, instead awarded it to Rep. John E. Peterson (R-Pa.). Lingering animosity between Livingston and Armey, however, was not the sole factor in assignments. Foley, for example, has backed Armey, while Livingston ally Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.) failed to win the Appropriations seat he wanted.
Foley was methodical in his pursuit of a seat on the tax-writing and trade policy committee, which he unsuccessfully sought last Congress. "Whenever the leadership asks you to do something, you do it," he said."
Foley, a gregarious former real estate agent who came in with the class of 1994, is more moderate than many of his peers, but he has proven himself adept at fund-raising and corralling votes on key issues. Representing a wealthy district that includes Palm Beach and serving as chairman of the GOP's Entertainment Task Force, Foley made a point of targeting such companies as Time Warner and Disney for campaign contributions.
Six months ago he brokered a meeting between entertainment executives and House leaders in which Gingrich pledged to pass a copyright extension bill and legislation enacting intellectual property rights agreements, two measures that made it through Congress in its final days.
By his estimate, Foley raised and contributed more than a half-million dollars to GOP candidates over the past two years. He also has lent his fashionable Capitol Hill row house to other members for fund-raisers, policy forums and celebrations. "My house is a virtual party house," Foley said. "Much like real estate, it's just having friends throughout the entirety of the operation."
This included extensive congressional travel, including a 1997 trip to China with Gingrich, Livingston and other leaders, and a trip to Prague that same year with senior Ways and Means members Reps. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.) and Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). "When you spend 11 days in a foreign country with someone, you're bonded," Foley said of his China trip.
While House Republicans are returning to a state of relative normalcy, the Senate is about to face its own internal battle. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) plans to announce today that he will challenge National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Mitch McConnell (Ky.) for the fund-raising post, according to aides.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company