An innocent-looking announcement on the back page of the Congressional Record the other day said Sen. Paula Hawkins' Labor and Human Resources investigations subcommittee had scheduled a hearing for today.
The only trouble is, the Florida Republican is no longer a member of the committee, and thus can't be one of its subcommittee chairmen. Furthermore, if she isn't a member, she can't have staff members on the subcommittee. But she does.
Hawkins, it turns out, has been at the center of a bizarre battle among conservative Republicans for seats on the committee that has left almost everyone involved shaking their heads in amusement.
Hawkins, who refuses to discuss the matter, gave up her seat--and her subcommittee chairmanship--for a slot on the Banking Committee when the 98th Congress began. Then she decided she wanted to get back on Labor and Human Resources.
This set off a sticky contest that has tied that committee in knots. Two Republican senators, Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) and Alfonse M. D'Amato (N.Y.), had been appointed to the panel to take the spots held in the last Congress by Hawkins and John P. East (N.C.).
Grassley was determined to stay on Labor and Human Resources, but D'Amato initially was willing to step aside for Hawkins. This was fine with Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Hawkins and even the Democrats, who regarded the affair with bemused detachment.
Hatch, according to both Democratic and Republican sources, wanted to get rid of D'Amato anyway because he feared the New Yorker would vote with two other northeastern Republicans on the panel, Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (Conn.) and Robert T. Stafford (Vt.).
Weicker and Stafford have frequently sided with Democrats on the committee, embarrassing Hatch and giving liberals and moderates a majority.
Paul Smith, Hatch's press secretary, said his boss has nothing but the highest regard for D'Amato and never wanted to dump him from the committee. In any event, the Hawkins-D'Amato switch fell through when East, an outspoken conservative, reappeared in the fight. East ranks above Hawkins in seniority, so she needed his permission to return to the committee ahead of him. He said no dice.
East had championed tobacco interests on the committee, but he gave up his seat for a spot on Armed Services. East feared that if Hawkins got back on the Labor and Human Resources panel and he did not, he would be in hot water with tobacco farmers back home, according to aides.
Hatch went back to the drawing board. He floated several trial balloons. One called for adding another member of each party to the committee and dumping D'Amato. Another called for adding two members of each party and keeping D'Amato, who decided he'd like to stay on the committee after hearing from union leaders in New York.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), the committee's ranking Democrat, belatedly entered the battle, alerting Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) that an effort was under way that could shift the committee's ideological balance.
As of late yesterday the battle remained unresolved.
Meanwhile, today's hearing will be conducted by the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on juvenile justice. Hawkins is to appear as a witness.