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What's In A (Committee) Name?

CBSNews.com producer David Miller takes note of some semantic spoils from the Democratic mid-term victory.


(AP / CBS)
Democrats, now officially in charge of Congress, are doing more in their first 100 hours than pursuing an ambitious legislative agenda — they're also trying to make it appear that the Republicans never ran the show in the first place.

A look at the committee roster of the 110th Congress has a decidedly retro feel to it, thanks to several changes that restore the names of those panels to the ones they had the last time Democrats were in power, before the 1994 elections.

Among the most noteworthy is the House Education and Labor Committee, which has been newly rechristened with its old name. When Republicans took control of the chamber in 1995, the word "labor" suddenly disappeared. Not surprising, since Big Labor was a key part of the political machine that had kept Democrats in control of the House for the previous 40 years. After a couple changes, the panel eventually wound up as the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Democrats weren't happy about the change, but could do little about it in the House, where the majority holds nearly absolute power. Now that they have control, the panel's new chairman, Rep. George Miller of California, and the Democratic leadership, have gone back to the old name.

"Congressman Miller viewed that change as a deliberate swipe at the labor movement in this country," spokesman Tom Kiley said regarding the 1995 switch. "In his opinion the labor movement has been very important for America's workers."

Another change with a clear partisan bent comes from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by California Democrat Henry Waxman, who repeatedly accused his Republican counterparts of not acting as an appropriate check on the Bush administration, particularly regarding the war in Iraq.

Under Republican control, the panel was simply the Government Reform Committee. Democrats not only added "oversight" but also moved it to the front, a semantic warning shot to the White House indicating more hearings and subpoenas may be ahead.

Other changes seem more fueled by nostalgia. What was the International Relations Committee in the House is now the Foreign Affairs Committee, per the desires of incoming chairman Tom Lantos of California.

In the Senate, a stronger resistance to change and a less partisan atmosphere has helped keep many committee names intact for years. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions — or HELP — committee has a name with an aura of 1960s liberalism. Yet it kept that moniker despite Republicans holding a Senate majority for most of the past 12 years.