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The Senate's Committee Shakeups
The Washington Post
Thursday, November 6, 2002

The GOP Senate takeover will hand committee chairmanships back to Republicans. Among the major changes:

Agriculture | Appropriations | Armed Services | Banking, Housing and Urban Development | Budget | Commerce, Science and Transportation | Energy | Environment and Public Works | Finance | Foreign Relations | Governmental Affairs | Health, Education, Labor and Pensions | Judiciary |


Southerners regain the helm of this panel -- which has been dominated by Midwesterners for more than a decade -- when Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) assumes the chairmanship, succeeding Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Cochran, 65, has a conservative record on most issues but lacks the ideological or confrontational edge of some of his younger colleagues. A congressman for six years, he was elected to the Senate in 1978. He was a member of the Senate GOP leadership until he was defeated by his state's junior senator, Trent Lott, for the post of GOP leader in 1996.

Cochran was a key player in developing the 1996 bill to phase out most crop subsidies (which was largely undone by this year's farm bill), yet he has been protective of cotton and other Southern crops. He is in line to chair the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, although those chairmanships are subject to reshuffling. Cochran was reelected without serious opposition Tuesday.


Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) returns to the helm of the Senate committee that oversees federal spending, which he headed from 1997 until Republicans lost control of the Senate in June 2001, when he was succeeded by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Stevens, a senator since 1969, is known for his irascible style as well as his devotion to the Senate, knowledge of its appropriations process and skill in making it work. Like Byrd, he has a special fondness for his home state when the dollars start flowing. Like Byrd, he is also a Senate institutionalist and protector of its traditions.

With the retirement of 99-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), Stevens, 78, becomes the Senate's senior Republican and, as such, the Senate president pro tempore.

Stevens is a moderate on some issues, such as abortion. He and the equally prickly Byrd get along well, while some of Stevens's more conservative colleagues grumble privately at his reluctance to slash spending.

Armed Services

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), 75, one of the Senate's few World War II veterans, served as chairman of the committee from 1999 until mid-2001, when he was succeeded by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.).

Warner, who won reelection this week without formal Democratic opposition, was secretary of the Navy during the Nixon administration and is a strong champion of the armed forces and a supporter of Bush administration national security policies, including his plans for war if necessary to disarm Iraq.

A conservative but not an ideologue, Warner has taken an independent path on some issues, such as gun control, and often works with Democrats such as Levin. He refused to support Oliver North, of Iran-contra fame, when North ran for Virginia's other Senate seat in 1994, prompting conservatives to try -- unsuccessfully -- to block his renomination bid in 1996.

Banking, Housing and Urban Development

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), a Democrat-turned-Republican, was previously chairman and then ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, playing a key role in probing security failures in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Shelby, 68, is a conservative with an independent streak, especially on intelligence matters. On the banking panel, he has called for loosening federal regulations that he regards as burdensome to business.

Shelby, who was first elected to the Senate as a Democrat in 1986, switched parties in 1994 after a dispute with President Bill Clinton and after the GOP captured control of both the House and Senate. Republicans, eager to have him, let him keep his seniority on committees, including the banking panel.

Shelby succeeds Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) as committee chairman.


Assuming that Sen. Pete V. Domenici opts to take over the energy committee, the budget chairmanship is likely to go to Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), a conservative with an amiable personality and a powerful distaste for taxes, spending and governmental expansion.

Nickles, who is barred by term limits from seeking another term as assistant Republican leader, had decided against challenging Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) for the Senate's top GOP post. He has a long interest in budget priorities and can be expected to be a forceful chairman, probably more contentious than Domenici was in dealing with the panel's Democrats.

Nickles, 53, a former business executive, was the youngest senator when first elected in 1980. He moved quickly up the GOP leadership ladder and became a favorite of many business groups and conservative activists. He has helped lead numerous fights against government regulation.

Commerce, Science and Transportation

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chaired this committee before the 2001 Democratic takeover, returns to the post, succeeding Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.).

McCain and Hollings are among the pricklier Senate members but work well together, so the transition here may be smoother than at other committees. Although known mainly for his 2000 presidential bid and his championship of causes such as campaign finance reform, McCain has also been deeply involved in communications, tobacco and other business-related issues that come before the commerce committee.

McCain generally favors business deregulation but has sponsored some tough industry crackdowns, such as the 1998 tobacco bill that died, in part, from controversy over taxes and government regulation. McCain, 66, is also a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.


Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) has indicated he may take over the chairmanship now that Alaska's Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R), the panel's senior Republican, has been elected governor of that state.

Domenici has been chairman or ranking Republican on the Budget Committee for more than 20 years. But energy and resources are major concerns for New Mexico and a longtime interest for Domenici. The previous chairman was another New Mexican, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who now becomes the committee's ranking Democrat.

Domenici, 70, is a fiscal conservative but votes with moderates on many other issues. He generally sides with other Westerners on resource issues and has been a vigorous advocate for nuclear power and New Mexico's Sandia and Los Alamos research laboratories.

Domenici came to the Senate in 1973 and was handily elected Tuesday to a sixth term.

Environment and Public Works

Few committees will undergo a bigger change at the top than this committee when the chairmanship shifts from Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), who is highly regarded by environmentalists, to James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of their least favorite senators.

Inhofe, 67, a former mayor of Tulsa, served four terms in the House before winning election to the Senate in the 1994 GOP landslide. He is among the most conservative senators and a strong advocate of policies to shore up the oil industry.

Inhofe was in line to take over the committee after the death of Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) in 1999 but had to step aside to make way for Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.) when Smith returned to the GOP after an abortive presidential bid as an independent. Environmentalists were not all that keen about Smith -- who was ousted in the Sept. 10 Republican primary -- but regarded him as far preferable to Inhofe.


Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) was chairman of this powerful panel that oversees taxes, trade and many entitlement programs for only a few months before he was replaced by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in the 2001 Democratic takeover of the Senate.

Grassley, 69, is a farmer with a homespun manner, strong will and keen grasp of issues he cares about. Some of his more urbane colleagues once dismissed him as a bit of a rube, but they quickly learned better. He is a skilled legislative craftsman and knowledgeable on the complicated issues that come before the Finance Committee. He and Baucus worked well together, to the chagrin of some of their parties' more partisan members.

Grassley, 69, is a farmer with a homespun manner, strong will and keen grasp of issues he cares about. Some of his more urbane colleagues once dismissed him as a bit of a rube, but they quickly learned better. He is a skilled legislative craftsman and knowledgeable on the complicated issues that come before the Finance Committee. He and Baucus worked well together, to the chagrin of some of their parties' more partisan members.

Grassley is a conservative with an independent streak who has repeatedly taken on the Pentagon on spending and other issues. He has pushed for internal congressional reforms, including applying anti-discrimination and other workplace laws to congressional operations and ending the practice under which senators can block action by secretly placing "holds" on legislation and nominations.

Foreign Relations

With the retirement of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) becomes chairman of the panel that oversees international relations, succeeding Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).

Widely respected among internationalists in both parties, Lugar, 70, headed the committee for an unusually productive two-year period in the mid-1980s, until Helms exercised his seniority rights to become the panel's ranking Republican and then chairman.

A long-distance runner in his spare time, Lugar is a former Rhodes scholar who became mayor of Indianapolis and won election to the Senate in 1976. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, winning praise for thoughtful speeches but little support from voters. He is perhaps best known for the Nunn-Lugar program to dismantle the former Soviet Union's weapons of mass destruction, which he cosponsored with then-Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

Lugar was ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee in the current Congress.

Governmental Affairs

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), just elected to her second term, will head this panel, which deals with organization and operations of government. She succeeds Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.).

Collins will be the only female chairman of a major committee and the first woman to serve in such a post since Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) headed the committee in charge of health and other social programs from 1995 to 1996.

Collins, 50, is a political moderate, more liberal on social than fiscal issues, and a reliable recruit for bipartisan efforts to bridge differences between the parties. She was ranking Republican on the committee's permanent subcommittee on investigations.

Collins never held elective office before winning her Senate seat in 1996, but she worked a dozen years for then-Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine).

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H), who will take over from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) as head of the committee that oversees many of the largest domestic programs, was a governor and House member before winning election to the Senate in 1992. Although he is more conservative than most New England senators, Gregg, 55, has more of a pragmatic bent than some of his more ideological GOP colleagues. He works with Democrats, including Kennedy, on key issues such as education, pensions and the environment.

Gregg has been a proponent of revamping financing for Social Security, including creation of personal savings accounts, and he pushed for more medical plan choices under Medicare. He was Bush's point man on the education bill that Congress passed last year and has been a close ally of Republican leader Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.).


It was in 1995 that Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) first became chairman of the committee, whose jurisdiction includes legislation involving law enforcement and nominations to the federal judiciary.

He was chairman when Republicans held up many of President Bill Clinton's judicial nominees, sometimes getting caught in a crossfire when Democrats accused him of blocking action while GOP conservatives regarded him as too accommodating to the White House. More recently he has taken the lead, as the committee's ranking Republican, in accusing Democrats of stalling action on President Bush's most conservative nominations to the bench.

A staunch conservative, Hatch nevertheless has teamed up with Democrats on health and other issues. In recent years, he has taken up song-writing, including rock and rap as well as religious music.

Hatch, 68, who was first elected to the Senate in 1976, succeeds Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) as chairman.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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