Gephardt's Pledge Drive
In Capitol Hill terms the one-page missive to Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) from House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) was worth its weight in gold bullion: a promised appointment to the House Appropriations Committee if the Democrats take control of the House.
Sanders was merely one in a long string of winners in the high-stakes competition by leaders of House and Senate Demo-crats to increase their party's numbers in the upcoming election and reclaim control of their respective chambers. By agreeing to stay in the House and run for reelection rather than challenging home state GOP Sen. James M. Jeffords, Sanders had gotten a significant plum.
Gephardt can practically taste the majority -- and his own likely rise to speaker as head of the majority party. Every lawmaker he can keep in the fold makes his ambition that much more attainable. So he has been doling out the goodies. He was more than willing to spell out in writing on November 18 that Sanders, an
Independent who votes with the Dems and would undoubtedly support a Democrat for speaker, would not only get a seat on one of the most coveted panels in the House, but he would also be given as much seniority -- read that, perks -- as a Democrat of comparable years in office.
"We know that your decision to run for reelection to the House is based on your considered judgment that you can most effectively represent the people of Vermont by remaining in this body," Gephardt wrote. "Your membership on the Appropriations Committee will certainly enhance your already established ability to influence the appropriations process."
While talk of committee assignments may seem like the ultimate inside-the-Beltway chatter so many months before the first ballot is cast, controlling the federal government's purse strings is a zealously guarded congressional prerogative. Lawmakers can direct dollars to their districts as well as use money to shape national public policy.
Jane Sanders, the congressman's wife, who serves as his chief of staff, said of Gephardt's promise of the Appropriations assignment: "It was pivotal. Virtually everything goes through the Appropriations Committee."
Jane Sanders added that while being in the Senate would have had certain perks -- though, of course, winning the seat was not a given -- "being on the Appropriations Committee evens things up a bit."
Several other Democrats have extracted similar promises from Gephardt: Rep. Bill Luther (D-Minn.) landed on the Commmerce Committee at the beginning of last year, when his campaign coffers were flush with cash and he was eyeing a challenge to Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.), which he has now dropped. Rep. David Minge (D-Minn.) was considering the same possibility until recently, when he opted out. Among the considerations: He was promised a Ways and Means Committee slot in return for staying in the House, according to key Democrats.
Minge isn't alone in aspiring to the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over all tax matters. Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) has considered retiring for the last few years, but he agreed to sign on for another term and got a commitment from the leadership that he, too, would get a seat on Ways and Means.
But that's not all. Former Democratic representative Jane Harman of California announced last month she would run for her old seat, which is currently held by GOP Rep. Steve Kuykendall. According to Democrats, Gephardt and the Democratic leadership told Harman that she would not be treated like a mere freshman -- the lowest rung on the perks ladder -- but would regain her seniority if she managed to return to the House, and that she would get spots on the Commerce and Select Intelligence committees.
Is Gephardt worried he's spreading around the goodies too liberally? Not at all, he said in an interview, emphasizing that every promise is contingent on the Democrats' winning back the House.
"We have an embarrassment of poverty in the minority," Gephardt said. "If we win the majority, we'll have an ability to deal with members' requests on this."
Dancin' The Site Away
Worth the wait? As the new year dawned, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) was one of just a handful of House members without a Web site, but his staff has been working furiously to make the leap into cyberspace. Kucinich's site will not merely feature the usual legislative information, White House tour tickets and the like. He'll also offer a bevy of Web links that should keep constituents busy.
What might they be? Links to Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of course, and the various Cleveland sports teams (Indians, Browns, Cavaliers and the WNBA team, the Rockers). But when the site is up and running, probably by the middle of this month, you'll also be able to link to a list of all the bowling alleys in the district, the International Polka Hall of Fame, and audio clips of Grammy winner Frank Yankovic, the deceased Polka King.
The Kucinich Web site will also feature an "Action Center" on issues important to Kucinich and a "Youth Congress" page, which will be designed by high school students who participate in the congressman's monthly mock legislature events.
Kucinich chief of staff John Edgell said his boss wanted to launch a site that could provide his constituents with a range of options.
"He didn't want to have just an ordinary Web site," Edgell said. "He wanted to have an extraordinary Web site, that was different."
Polka lovers, get ready.
Juliet Eilperin covers Congress for The Post. Al Kamen is on vacation; his "Sunday in the Loop" column will resume next week. Tips and comments are welcomed at: In the Loop,The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by email at Loop@washpost.com. Please include home and work phone numbers.