The Senate yesterday approved the first major reorganization of its committee system in 30 years. The vote was 89 to 1.
The plan, not radical to start with, was shaved back both in the Rules Committee and on the floor by the efforts of powerful chairmen protecting their turf and by lobbying organizations unhappy with proposed shifts of functions out of committees where they felt they had special influence.
Neverthless, chief sponsor Adlai D.Stevenson (D-III), chairman of the special study committee that produced the measure, said the final result will substantially alter both structure and procedures, helping to streamline operations and end jurisdictional overlap.
"It democratized the Senate, rationalizes jurisdiction and cuts far back on the multiple committee assignments which pull and haul senators into time conflicts every day," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va) and Minority Leader Howard H.Baker (R-Tenn.) both said that it didn't go as far as they wanted, but "it's better than what we have." Byrd, together with Rules Chairman Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.) helped work out some of the concessions and compromises that smoothed the way for final passage.
The only vote against the plan was cast by Quentin N.Burdick (D-N.D.), who was in line to become chairman of the Post Office Committee, which the plan abolished.
Stevenson had sought a reduction of the committee from 31 to 15, but, as approved by the Senate, the plan reduces the number of committees and joint committees from 31 to 25. The number may drop to 22 by the end of the year through later abolition of the Nutrition, Joint Printing and Joint Library committees.
In one of its most significant features, the plan ends huge overlaps on energy policy by consolidating into a new Energy and Natural Resources Committee virtually all energy and minerals legislation. It also places nearly all jurisdiction over environment and Public Works Committee.
In addition, it limits the number of subcommittees and committees on which a senator may serve to an aggregate of 11 in most cases (some now serve on 28 to 30), and is expected to cut the total number of subcommittees from 174 to about 125. It clamps a lid on the number of committees (one) and subcommittees (three) a senator may chair.
To plan abolishes six units: the Space Committee becomes part if Commerce, Science and Transportation: the District of Columbia and Post Office Committees go into Governmental Affairs. The Joint Atomic, Joint Congressional Operations and Joint Defense Production Committees will also be abolished and their functions redistributed. (The House must concur in legislation formally to wipe out the joint units, but other committees will take over their functions meanwhile.
Stevenson's study unit had also proposed killing the Joint Economic, Joint Internal Revenue Taxation, nutrition, Veterans. Small Business and Aging committees, among others. But he lost fights either in the Rules Committee or on the floor, and eventually agreed to let nutrition survive as a study committee until Dec. 31, 1977.
Some senators critized the Stevenson unit for not proposing to take away some of the huge powers of the Finance Committee, which controls taxes, tariffs. Social Security-Security-financed health insurance. But finance will retain these powers.
One important feature which Republicans heartily backed was added in the Rules Committee: it gives the Republicans a guarantee of roughly one-third of the Committee staffing, to be achieved in four years. They have a much smaller percentage now.
Staffs of the abolished committees will be transferred to the successor committees with a guarantee of jobs until July 1. After that, many maybe fired.
The approed plan also:
Limits a senator to service on twoo major standing committees and one "third" committee. Third committees are Rules, Aging, Intelligence, Veterans, Small Business, Joint Economic and, for certain purposes. Governmental Affairs and Budget during the present Congress only. Ethics and a new Committee on Indians (the latter expires after this Congress) can be a fourth.
Limits a senator to three subcommittees on each major standing committee and two on his "third" committee. (This limit doesn't apply to the Appropriations Committee.) The aim is to prevent senators from serving on two dozens or more units, stretching themselves so thin they can't do a good job, and to open up more slots for junior members.
Provides for computerized scheduling to end time conflicts on committee meetings, and for joint or sequentila referral of bills to several committees on the motion of the leadership, without unanimous consent being needed.
Leaves the Senate with the following committees: Agriculture; Appropriations; Armed Services; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Budget; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Energy and Natural Resources; Environment and Public Works; Finance; Foreign Relations; Governmental Affairs; Human Resources (formely labor); Judiciary; Rules and Administration; Nutrition; Veterans' Affairs; Small Business; Ethics; Intelligence; Indian Affairs; Joint Library; Joint Printing.