Sen. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.) will be back next year leading Senate Republicans into the congressional budget battle as the ranking GOP member of the Senate Budget Committee.

The retirement of Sen. James A. McClure (Idaho) gave Domenici the chance to become the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a panel important to his uranium-rich home state.

Domenici, who rolled up a record-setting margin of victory this month on his way to a fourth Senate term, said he made the decision after consulting with Sen. Malcolm Wallop (Wyo.), who is now in line to become the Energy Committee's top Republican. Domenici is to become the ranking GOP member of the panel's subcommittee on energy research and development. New Mexico is home of the Los Alamos laboratories, where the atomic bomb was developed during World War II.

In an interview yesterday, Domenici said he decided to remain as his party's leader on the Budget Committee to help shape the debate over spending priorities under this year's budget agreement. "The budget provides people like me an opportunity to be involved in debates and discussions on a lot of different subjects," he said.

Domenici -- whom a congressional colleague once described as being "terminally responsible" -- has been on the Budget Committee since its inception in 1975 and was its chairman between 1981 and 1987. Domenici had relinquished his seat at the center of the Budget Committee's dais, it would have gone to Sen. Steve Symms (R-Idaho). Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) would have been in line for the spot, but lost his bid for reelection earlier this month.