With an apparent eye towards the presidency, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) announced yesterday that he would give up his ranking minority post on the Senate Budget Committee to become ranking minority member on the Senate Commerce Committee.
Hollings will replace Sen. Howard M. Cannon (D-Nev.) as the minority leader of the Commerce Committee. Cannon was defeated in last week's election.
Holling's decision to leave the minority leadership post on the budget committee came as a surprise to many Capitol Hill aides who only last week predicted Hollings would stay on as the ranking minority member of the budget committee. Noting that committee's crucial role in forming national economic policy, congressional aides predicted Hollings would prefer that post as a better platform from which to gain the Democratic nomination for the presidency--a post Hollings is known to be seeking.
Yesterday, however, Hollings told a press conference that he felt the nation's economic problems could be better addressed in the Commerce Committee, which oversees the nation's transportation systems, its trade policy and the communciations and high technology industries.
The Commerce Committee's jurisdiction "covers all these vital areas providing the chance to influence the development of new national policy to get America moving again," Hollings said.
Congressional aides also noted that as minority leader of the Commerce Committee, Hollings would probably have more access to the nation's largest corporations and trade associations and, as a result, their campaign contributions, than he now has as minority member of the Budget Committee.
But Hollings' ascension to the Commerce Committee's top minority post could pose problems for committee Chairman Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), an avowed deregulator. Disturbed over the decline in airline flights to South Carolina since airline deregulation, Hollings has fought against trucking deregulation and the removal of many other government industry rules.
The committee "will be more of a battleground," one aide said, especially if the administration goes ahead with its expected proposals to phase out the Interstate Commerce Commission.