The House Democratic leadership today is to resolve a three-way fight for a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, a fight some view as a test of the leadership's willingness to reward and punish members for their past voting records.
The three major contestants for the choice committee assignment are Mike Lowry (Wash.), Geraldine A. Ferraro (N.Y.) and Beryl F. Anthony Jr.(Ark.). All have strong bases of support and are generally well-liked, although Anthony voted against the leadership and with the Reagan administration on the first budget resolution. On two other key votes, the tax bill and the $35 billion budget reconciliation measure, he voted with the Democratic leadership.
Lowry, who represents the southern half of Seattle and neighboring suburbs, contended in an interview that past voting records should be "part of the test" and added, "I think I've supported the leadership on every tough vote."
After the series of three major defeats encountered by the Democratic leadership on the budget, tax and reconciliation bills, all of which resulted from widespread defections from the conservative wing of the party, the Democratic caucus adopted the stance that no sanctions would be applied to members for past votes, although stronger loyalty requirements would be sought in the future.
Anthony argued in an interview that his two votes in support of the leadership were tougher tests of loyalty than the same votes by Lowry and Ferraro. Their districts, he explained, are more liberal than his, which covers most of the southern third of Arkansas.
There is "nothing to be ashamed of in my voting over the past 2 1/2 (his service in Congress)," Anthony said. His view is shared by a number of key members of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which is scheduled to make the choice this afternoon.
The opening on the committee was created by the death of Rep. William R. Cotter (D-Conn.) earlier this year. The steering and policy committee nominates a candidate who must then be confirmed by the full caucus, but in most cases the caucus action is just a formality. In this case, however, any of the three candidates rejected by the Democratic panel is considered likely to contest the nomination.
Sources who have been watching the contest said Anthony has been conducting a strong lobbying campaign in his own behalf and stands an outside chance of winning in the full caucus if he is not nominated.
A number of Democratic liberals have complained privately, however, that past appointments of conservatives to key committees have backfired for the party. They cited Reps. Kent Hance and Phil Gramm, both of Texas, who became the principal Democratic sponsors of the Reagan tax and budget bills in defiance of their party leadership. Hance serves on Ways and Means, and Gramm is on Budget.
In addition to the loyalty issue, there are regional questions that are likely to play equal roles in the contest. Ferraro, for example, comes from the same region of the country as Cotter, but New York already has two members on the panel. Lowry contends that the entire Northwest region has no representation on the tax-writing committee.