Because some type was dropped from a story in Monday's edition, there was an error in reporting the committee assignments of Maryland's two U.S. senators. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) has temporarily been assigned to the Appropriations and Interior committees while Sen. Charles Mac Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) intends to remain on the Appropriations, Judiciary and District committees.
Though the 95th Congress that convened Tuesday is a long way from enacting major legislation, many of its members currently are worrying over what for them could be the most important votes of the session, the ones deciding to which committees they will be assigned.
"I just got off the phone with a guy who lost" in a bid to be on a particular House committee. "He was quite upset and considered it a great political loss," said Rep. Benjamin S. Rosenthal (D-N.Y.), one of the 24 members of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee that parcels out committee seats among House Democrats.
Committee membership is crucial for congressmen because Congress largely functions through its committees. Most of the 433 representatives and 100 senators' hopes for significant impact rest in the couple of standing committees they are on.
The 67 freshmen House members and 18 new senators are the most concerned about the committee assignments, which often determined the direction of an entire career on Capitol Hill.
Neither of Maryland's two new House members, Reps. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) and Newton I. Steers (R) got their first committee choices, though both were awarded preferences.
Mikulski had hopes of receiving one of the conveted seats on the House Ways and Means Committee that initiates all tad legislation. Instead, she has been nominated for the important interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee and alos is likely to serve on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, the later being of special interest to the port of Baltimore.
Steers, a former employee of the Atomic Energy Commission, had sought a spot on the Science and Technology Committee. Instead, he was placed on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs where his experience as Maryland's insurance commissioner should be useful. Steers will also be on the House District Committee, where he'll join other suburban congressmen in blocking a "commuter tax" on the incomes of suburbanites working in the District.
Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) is likely to be one of the big winners in the current shuffling of committee assignments, having been nominated to be one of the three Ways and Means' representation on the House Budget Committee that has responsibility for setting federal budget priorities.
Fisher and other committees nominee still must be approved by the caucus of all House Demoncrats. But the caucus rarely challenges the nominations of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee that includes the House leadership.
Because a member loss seniority on a committee when he switches he is likely to stay on the committees which he is first assigned even though they may not have been his first choices. "He's probably going to be there a long, long time," noted one Hill staffer.
Some, however, do try to transfer to committees they consider more important or interesting. Rep. Herbert Reb tapped for either the Judiciary or Banking committee and would surrender his seat on the less prestigious House District Committee. Harris plans in any event to continue on the Post Office and Civil Service Committee that is important to many of his federal employee constitutes.
D.C. Del Walter E. Fauntroy (D) said he intents to give up a subcommittee chairmanship on the House District Committee, while remaining a committee member, so theat he can head the little known Historic Preservation and Coinage Subcommittee of the House Banking Committee.
Fauntroy said that chairing a subcommittee with broader interests than that of the District, hardly most congressmen's top priority, will put him in a more strategic position with many members in seeking their support for District legislation.
As the District's delegate to Congress, Fauntroy can vote in committees but not on the House floor.
Those debating and voting behind closed doors on committee assigments weigh a lot of considerations. Among them are the aim of fair regional representation and the importance of a particular committee to a particular congressional district. Other factors are a member's political, philosophy, his seniority, how he personally is regarded by his colleagues and how well he quietly campaigned for the assignment by discreetly presenting his credentials to his congressional seniors.
"In addition to philosophy and geography, persistence paid off in some cases," Rosenthal said of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee's nominations in the past week.
When no member from New Jersey was interested, freshmen member Mikulski had a chance to get on the Ways and Means Committee as a representative of the Middle Atlantic region.
However, Mikulski's chances were hurt because Rep. John H. Dent (D-Pa.), a backer within the Steering Committee, also was pushing Rep. Raymond F. Lderer (D-Pa.), another freshman, for the powerful committee. Dent made an emotional plea that Pennsylvania not lose the representative it traditionally has had on Way and Means and Lederer was nominated, but no Mikulski.
Regional balancing of a committee's membership is a prime consideration. "If you are from Alabama and you want to get on a committee on which there already four from the Deep South, you are dead in the water," said a congressional aide.
The rules for selection to congressional committee vary a bit between the House and the Senate and between Democrats and Republicans, but in each instance, there proposed for committee assignments are subject to approval by all of a member's colleagues of the same party.
House Democrats are limited in most instances to belonging to one major and one "nonmajor" standing committee or two "nonmajor" committee. Not even the least desirable committee is officially designed as "minor."
Once a full committee's membership has been determined - the proportion of Democrats and Republicans depend - on the overall proportion within the House or Senate - the committee members organize themselves into subcommittees, with the subcommittee being distributed according to seniority.
Chairman of standing House committees as well as subcommittees chairmen of the key Appropriations Committee must be approved by the Democratic caucus. Rep. Clarence D. Long (D-Md.) hopes he will succeed retired Rep. Otto E. Passman (D-La.) as head of Appropriations' Foreign Operations subcommittee.
Rep. Gladys N. Spellman (D-Md.) is hoping to become a subcommittee chairman on the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, while also remaining a member of Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs.
Rep. Marjorie S. Holt (R-Md.) is staying on the Armed Services and Budget committees. Another Marylander, Rep. Goodloe E. Bron (D) had decided to switch from the Commerce committee to Armed Serivices.
On the Senate side, where a proposed reorganization of the committee structure is being considered, the 18 new senators have been temporarily been assigned to committees by drawing of lots. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) intends to remain on the Appropriations, Judiciary and District committees. The big question for Mathias is whether he will become ranking minority member of Judiciary, a move through seniority that could be blocked by Conservative Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.), if Thurmond is willing to give up being ranking minority member on the Armed Services Committees.
Virginia's two senators, Harry F. Byrd Jr. (I) and William L. Scott (R), are likely to stay on their present committees.
Byrd serves on Finance and Armed Services, seats he is able to retain because even though he was re-elected in Virginia as an independent candidate, the Senate Democrats acknowleged Byrd's seniority in return for his vote in organizing the Senate.
Scott expects to remain on Armed Services and Judiciary, where he'll move up to third-ranking minority member after Mathias and Thurmond. An aide said Scott intends to focus on Judiciary "because of his interest in the law and his intention to practice law at the end of his term" in two years.