Senate Republicans yesterday ended a sticky game of musical chairs on the Labor and Human Resources Committee by giving back Sens. Paula Hawkins (Fla.) and John P. East (N.C.) their old seats on the committee.
To do so, they voted to expand the size of the committee by two members and remove Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York from its membership. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut will take the new Democratic seat.
The move came at a closed meeting of the Republican Conference, which includes every GOP senator. It followed a bitter 30-minute debate in which Sens. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (Conn.) and Robert T. Stafford (Vt.) accused committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (Utah) of trying to "stack" the panel with conservatives.
The committee has been tied in knots ever since Hawkins, who had given up her seat to join the Banking Committee, decided in late December that she wanted to rejoin the labor panel. Then East, who had given up his Labor Committee seat to take one on the Armed Services Committee, decided he also wanted to regain his seat to protect tobacco interests in his home state.
The shuffle set off a round of infighting among GOP senators and delicate behind-the-scenes negotiations.
"I'm embarrassed by the whole thing," Hawkins said after the meeting, adding, "Has it been a year since all this started? It seems like it."
"It the committee is a headache. I don't know why I got into this," she said. "They used to have to assign Republicans to the committee. Nobody wanted to touch it with a 10-foot pole."
Hatch, appearing with Hawkins after the vote, said he was "overjoyed" to have the Florida Republican back on the committee. "I'm a tough little bastard. But I'm not as tough as she is."
He denied reports from Republican moderates that the real purpose behind the shifts was to remove D'Amato because Hatch feared he would vote with Stafford and Weicker, retaining the "philosophical majority" that liberal Democrats enjoy on the committee.
"Al D'Amato is one of my closest friends in the Senate," said Hatch, claiming the New York senator agreed to leave the committee, a statement a D'Amato spokesman said he couldn't confirm or contradict. D'Amato was traveling to Italy on Senate business.
Hatch said the addition of Dodd means that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.), the panel's ranking Democrat, still has control of the committee "from a working majority standpoint."
As part of the deal, D'Amato will get a seat on the Joint Economic Committee, and an oversight and investigations subcommittee of the labor panel that Hawkins had chaired during the last Congress will be abolished.