Congressional Outlook 2001
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June 4, 2001
Volume 79, Number 23
CENEAR 79 23 pp. 9
ISSN 0009-2347
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Majority party Democrats rewrite agenda, name new committee chairs


The Democratic party takes over the Senate this week as a result of Sen. James M. Jeffords' (Vt.) defection from the ranks of the Republican Party to become an Independent aligned with the Democrats. The new Senate majority leader is Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) and one of his first jobs will be naming new chairmen for all of the Senate's committees. The power shift could seriously hamper enactment of parts of President George W. Bush's legislative agenda.

Some of the Democrats returning to power after more than six years in the wilderness are familiar names. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) resumes his powerful position as head of the Appropriations Committee, which plays a major role in deciding how much federal agencies get to spend each year and on what. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.) will again be head of the Health, Education, Labor & Pension Committee.

Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) once again chairs the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee. He has a history of being very wary of deregulation and of international trade agreements, two important parts of the Republican agenda. Hollings may start off with hearings on just how the U.S. has done under existing free-trade agreements and on consumer protections and the telecommunications industry.

Committees that handle science and technology issues will be chaired mostly by moderate legislators, all of whom seem to share a bent toward environmental advocacy. The Environment & Public Works panel likely will go to Jeffords, in what is widely seen as a bonus for his party shift. He has not previously served on the committee but is considered a supporter of environmental protection. He may take more liberal views on regulation of air and water pollution than did his predecessor, Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.)

In line for the Energy & Natural Resources Committee leadership post is Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who is on record as opposing parts of the energy agenda recently put forward by the Bush Administration, specifically oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bingaman instead favors increased conservation and improved fuel economy for cars and trucks.

Under these and the other Democratic committee chairmen, President Bush is going to meet opposition to some of his stated goals. Daschle has said he will move several Democratic priorities to the top of the Senate's agenda, including expanded rights for medical patients, prescription drug insurance coverage for seniors, and increasing the minimum wage.

Most notable of the Administration's priorities likely to fare poorly in the face of a Democratic Senate is the energy plan recently put forward by Vice President Dick Cheney (see page 41). Nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain in Nevada will also face heightened scrutiny, as will Administration nominees.

Other issues previously thought sure of enactment but now in limbo include increased student testing as part of the omnibus education bill, private investment accounts tied to Social Security, deregulation for businesses, and the controversial ballistic missile defense shield.

Even though the balance of power has shifted, the Democrats have the slimmest of majorities, and it will still require compromise and bipartisanship to enact legislation. Republican leaders remain confident that most of the their programs will pass. It will just take longer.


Senate chairmen switch as Democrats move in, Republicans out
Tom Harkin, Iowa Agriculture Richard Lugar, Ind.
Robert C. Byrd, W.Va. Appropriations Ted Stevens, Alaska
Carl Levin, Mich. Armed Services John W. Warner, Va.
Kent Conrad, N.D. Budget Pete V. Domenici, N.M.
Ernest F. Hollings, S.C. Commerce John McCain, Ariz.
Jeff Bingaman, N.M. Energy Frank Murkowski, Alaska
James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) Environment Bob Smith, N.H.
Max Baucus, Mont. Finance Charles Grassley, Iowa
Joseph R. Biden, Del. Foreign Relations Jesse Helms, N.C.
Joe Lieberman, Conn. Governmental Affairs Fred D. Thompson, Tenn.
Edward M. Kennedy, Mass. Health, Education, Labor & Pensions James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.)
Patrick Leahy, Vt. Judiciary Orrin G. Hatch, Utah

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