Four House committees yesterday passed into the night of congressional history, but they did not go quietly:
Select Committee on Hunger Chairman Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio) announced he would fast, beginning Monday, "until I feel at peace that things are happening" in Congress to alleviate hunger and famine.
"Congress is afflicted with famine. We are hungry for heart -- heart for the needy, the powerless and the forgotten," Hall said in an emotional statment at a news conference.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), former chairman of the former Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, planned to form its 30 members into a Drug Control Caucus to fill the committee's role as a forum and an advocate, an aide said.
"So for those of you that wish we were out of biz, we're coming back stronger than ever," Rangel vowed last week at the panel's final hearing, which explored Dominican drug trafficking rings.
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), who as head of the now-defunct Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families was the only woman to chair a congressional committee, called for a new and permanent Human Resources Committee.
"Of course, natural resources have theirs, but human resources don't," Schroeder said. "I guess we care more about owls than kids."
Rep. William J. Hughes (D-N.J.), acting chairman of the former Select Committee on Aging, was considering whether to create a caucus or to park a trailer on the Capitol grounds, making a new place for elderly to air their concerns, according to an aide. Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.), then a House member, used such a trailer to embarrass the House into forming the oldest of the four House select committees in 1975.
"I have no intention of letting these aging issues die, and these issues are too important to die on the altar of reform politics," said Hughes.
The fate of the select committees was foreshadowed in January when the House defeated a routine two-year extension for the narcotics committee, 237 to 180. Critics said the select committees were supposed to be temporary and were unneccessary because they lack the power to approve legislation.
Democratic leaders, surprised at the losing vote, ultimately decided that junking the select committees could serve as a symbol of congressional reform. The panels spent about $3.7 million a year, and their closing will save about $2.7 million for the remainder of the current budget year.
House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) has said that permanent committees with legislative jurisdiction would handle the issues that select committees have raised in the past. So far little evidence exists that such a shift would actually take place. Between 10 and 18 permanent committees shared jurisdiction over each select committee's area of concern.
Like the 60 select committee aides still on the payroll, Brian T. Lutz, staff director of the Aging committee, was preparing to pack 240 file drawers of committee records and ship many documents to the National Archives. Bundles of flat cardboard boxes abounded in the committee's half-empty offices, where fax machines and phones were mostly silent yesterday morning.
Lutz said he has not heard from any of the 12 committees with jurisdiction over such matters as Social Security, pensions or nutrition programs for the elderly.
"They're all saying they're going to pick it up, but not a single standing committee has asked us for information. We have two decades of information," Lutz said.
Schroeder said the 13 permanent committees with oversight over her former committee's issues have not spoken up, either. "Nobody has said, 'They're going down, so we're stepping up,' " she said.
Under her proposal for a permanent panel, the Education and Labor Committee would lose jurisdiction over many labor issues but would gain oversight of welfare, nutrition and juvenile justice programs.
Hall said that the Agriculture subcommittee on foreign agriculture and hunger did ask the Hunger committee for a briefing and other information. "The committee is over. We're not trying to resurrect it," he said.
The House Administration Committee decided to keep select committee aides on the payroll for 31 days so they could close out their business, under the auspices of House Clerk Donnald K. Anderson.
Lutz said he was unsure whether to mail materials under the congressional frank and what to do about incomplete General Accounting Office investigations the comittee requested.
"We don't know at this point if we're supposed to answer the phone because the committee doesn't exist anymore," Lutz said.