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Senate Power-Sharing Deal Approved

Two major shake-ups on Capitol Hill are likely to have a major impact on the character of the 107th Congress. The Senate, split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, came up with a power-sharing agreement Friday. The House, meanwhile, brought on a slew of new committee chairmen.

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans agreed by a voice vote on how they will run a body divided evenly between the two parties for the first time ever. The most critical of the new rules is that every Senate committee will have an equal number of members from each party.

With committee memberships divided down the middle, either party's leader will be able to ask the full Senate to consider bills or nominations that have received a tie vote in committee. Until now, a tie vote in committee has killed a measure before it reaches the Senate floor.

Among other details of the new agreement:

  • The question of membership on crucial conference committees, which negotiate final versions of bills with the House, was left open. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told reporters he believed Republicans would have majorities on conference committees.
  • The two parties will be able to hire staffs of equal size. Until now, the majority party has had the larger budget to hire aides.
  • If a senator resigns or dies and the Senate's 50-50 ratio changes, they would once again alter the chamber's procedures.

    The deal reflects the political reality that, even with GOP Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote, Democrats would have enough votes to halt the Senate's work with procedural delays unless they won concessions.

    Announcing the agreement on the Senate floor, Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said if the pact "is not miraculous, it is at the very least historic. It is also fair and reasonable."

    Republican leader Lott was less sanguine.

    "I wouldn't say this is my preferred result, but it is a reasonable one, with a serious dose of reality," he said. "This resolution may haunt me, but it's fair and it allows us to go on with the people's business."

    The agreement was the product of weeks of negotiations between the two men.

    Having fought their way from a 54-46 Senate minority last year to a 50-50 tie, Democrats have been demanding parity on committees, for hiring staff and other matters. But Republicans have insisted on having the upper hand. They will control the chamber starting Jan. 20, when Cheney replaces Al Gore as vice president.

    Also Friday, following through on a pledge to change the way business is conducted on Capitol Hill, House Republicans installed 13 new chairmen to head the committees that will try pushing President-elect Bush's agenda through the 107th Congress. The changes involve some of the most powerful committees - and most powerful leaders - in the House.

    "We're not afraid to take a chance on new faces, not afraid to take a chance on new ideas," Hose Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., told reporters Thursday after Republicans selected new committee chairmen for that chamber.

    Fresh faces at the helm included Rep. Bill Thomas of California, a 22-year veteran taking over the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee; Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the one-time No. 4 House leader who will lead the panel that oversees education; and Rep. Mike Oxley of Ohio, who will head the new banking committee, which will also control insurance and securities.

    They will be at the fore as Bush seeks legislation for the tax cuts and changes in education, Medicare and Social Security that highlighted his election campaign.

    The committee changes were forced by rules the GOP imposed when it took control of the House in 1995 and limited lawmakers to three two-year terms chairing a committee.

    The same rules allow departing chairmen to head other committees. Many will do just that in the Congress that convened Wednesday.

    Among the congressmen switching from one chairmanship to another are Reps. Bob Stump of Arizona, who moves from Veterans Affairs to the Armed Services committee; Henry Hyde of Illinois, who goes from Judiciary to International Relations; and Alaska's Don Young, who transfers from Resources to Transportation.

    Thomas, who has focused largely on Medicare and other health issues in recent years, will be in the spotlight during the battle for one of Bush's highest profile proposals, a 10-year, $1.3 trillion across-the-board tax reduction.

    House GOP leaders, and later the chamber's entire Republican membership, picked the committee chairmen after months of internal lobbying and a long day of meetings. And in doing so, some rivals for some of the jobs were spurned.

    At Ways and Means, Thomas leapfrogged the more senior Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois.

    And when Oxley got the financial services post, Rep. W.J. Tauzin of Louisiana was tapped to head the Commerce Committee. That left Rep. Marge Roukema of New Jersey without a chairmanship, despite 20 years in the House and seniority on the banking committee.

    Other new committee chairmen will include Reps. Jim Nussle of Iowa at the Budget panel; James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin for the Judiciary committee; and James Hansen of Utah at Resources.

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