Just one day after Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) conceded to President Carter and the House leadership on governemnt reorganization procedures, the House Rules Committee took up a Brooks-sponsored resolution that would make Brooks the chairman of a new commission with broad powers over House operations.
One opponent of the plan described the new commission as "a power grab" that would make Brooks "a greater czar than Wayne Hays ever thought of being."
The House Rules Committee yesterday postponed action on Brooks' resolution after public complaints about the power it would give Brooks and private complaints that it trampled on the jurisdiction of the Rules Committee, the Obey Commission on Administrative Review, and the right of the House Administration Committee to control the new commission's funding.
Both House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) and Brooks denied there was any trade-off involved, that Brooks was being rewarded for ending his opposition to Carter's reorganization powers bill.
"Now who would think a thing like that?" O'Neill said. "There's no truth to it at all." O'Neill reluctantly conceded he was involved in working out the compromise with Brooks which allowed Carter's authority to reorganize the government to come out of Brooks' Government Operations Subcommittee. "Jack is my close personal friend. We've been working on this since the day we left Plains. But he's a great team player."
Brooks insisted that the commission was being proposed simply to replace the Joint Committee on Congressional Operations, which he co-chairs with Sen. Lee Meteaff (D-Mont.). Under a recent committee reorganization proposal approved by the Senate, the joint committee is scheduled to be abolished.
Brooks insisted that the commission would have no more authority in the House than the joint committee had. He said that it was necessary or the 35 joint committee staffers would lose their jobs and the placement office, which screens applicants for jobs in House and Senate offices, would go out of business.
Reorganization had "nothing to do with it," there was "no relationship whatsoever," Brooks said. He added that he had discussed it with O'Neill and "the speaker assured me he was sympathetic to the commission" because he felt the work of the joint committee should be continued.
Majority leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said he did not think there was a trade-off. But, Wright said, he could understand how Brooks might figure if he weren't an obstructionist on government reorganization he might get some things done he would not otherwise accomplish, and O'Neill might be willing to go along with Brooks to ease the reorganization problem.
There was also speculation that the current experiment in televising the House under a procedure which Brooks has pushed for a long time was also a "reward" to Brooks for ending his opposition to Carter's reorganization authority.
"Brooks is so foxy. He didn't lose a thing fighting reorganization) and he got TV and now this," one member said.
The original resolution Brooks proposed allowed the commission to be funded "upon vouchers approved by the chairman" without a limit on funding and without the normal approval of the House Administration Committee.
However, Brooks agreed to drop that provision after Adminsitration Committee Chairman Frank Thompson, Jr. (D-N.J.) complained.
The resolution would still give the commission jurisdiction over committee reorganization, which the Rules Committee feels is its jurisdiction, and jurisdiction over the "organization and operation" of Congress. The latter function has never before been assigned to any specific House committee.
During hearings yesterday, Rules Committee members questioned why Brooks wanted a commission instead of a committee, why he was seeking subpoena power for the commission, why the commission wanted the right to use counterpart funds to travel abroad, and why it was seeking permission to pay two staff members over $52,000 a year, more than any House committee staffer is allowed to receive.
Rep. Del Clawson (R.-Calif.) said as a commission the group "would be relatively free of the constraints that are on the rest of the House" committees.
Rep. Richard Bolling (D.-Mo.) said the commission "digs up more snakes than it buries."
Brooks admitted that he wanted to chair the commission, and under Democratic Caucus rules, since he is already chairman of the Government Operations Committee, he could not chair another House committee.
He said the subpoena power and counterpart funds would be rarely used, and contended that the commission would not interfere with the work of the Obey commission, which is working on revising the administrative operations of the House.
Twenty-eight of the 35 joint committee staffers work in the placement office, Brooks said, and would be in "limbo" if the commission was not established.
"Couldn't the placement office be operated by the Clerk of the House?" Clawson asked.
Bolling said he had "no desire to kill the commission's functions" but said he preferred it as a committee, which would mean that Brooks could not be chairman.
The Rules Committee agreed to take the matter up again next Tuesday.