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House Republicans Plan to Break Up Commerce Panel, Abolish Three Others With AM-GOP-Committee

December 3, 1994

House Republicans Plan to Break Up Commerce Panel, Abolish Three Others With AM-GOP-Committee List

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans would break up one of the most powerful House committees, eliminate three others and televise more of the legislative process under a plan announced Friday.

″This is a major reform,″ said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., head of the Republicans’ standing committee transition team. He said only one standing committee, the Committee on Internal Security, had been abolished in the House since 1946.

The restructuring will be voted on by the full House on Jan. 4, the first day of the new Congress.

Destined to lose power is the Energy and Commerce Committee, which, under heavyweight Democratic power-broker Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, had jurisdiction over 40 percent all legislation in Congress.

Under the GOP plan, the panel would simply be called the Commerce Committee and 20 percent of its jurisdiction would be distributed among four other committees. Food inspection issues, for example, would be handled in the Agriculture Committee, railroads in the Transportation Committee (now the Public Works Committee) and energy research and development to the Technology and Competitiveness Committee (now Science, Space and Technology).

The Commerce Committee no longer would be involved in reform legislation allowing banks to compete with securities firms. In the past, such legislation has passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, but was stalled by Dingell. Under the reform plan, it would go to the renamed Banking and Financial Services Committee (now Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs).

Slated for elimination are the Post Office and Civil Service, District of Columbia and Merchant, Marine and Fisheries committees.

Dreier also said that television cameras would be allowed for the first time in committee sessions, where the actual writing of legislation takes place, and in the Rules Committee, where members decide how many amendments should be allowed on a bill during floor debate. TV coverage now is limited to hearings and floor action.

When the Republicans take control of the House, they also plan to allow more debate on the House floor of various amendments House members may want to attach to individual bills. This inevitably will increase the time spent on each bill in the final stage of passage, but is part of the GOP promise of a more open legislative process.

Turf battles among powerful committee chairmen has been a problem among the Democrats when more than one committee had jurisdiction over any single bill.

The Republican solution: Each bill has only one committee of jurisdiction.

Along with the committee restructuring will come a one-third cut in staff. The Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, has 141 staff members, mostly Democrats, and soon to be laid off.

Besides committee staff cuts, Republicans want to eliminate hundreds of non-legislative jobs. They include employees working under the House doorkeeper, clerk, sergeant-at-arms and chief administrator in mostly patronage jobs that have been pretty secure under 40 years of Democratic control.

The employees are receiving forms to use for reapplying for their current jobs.

No severance pay and no payment for unused, accrued leave time would be granted those not rehired.

Democrats protested the personnel action.

″To show such callous disregard for these workers and their families as the holidays approach is more than outrageous, it’s just plain cold-hearted and cruel,″ said Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri. ″It seems the GOP’s celebrated trickle-down prosperity won’t even trickle down to the workers in their own backyard.″

Rep. Albert Russell Wynn, D-Md. Wynn said Democrats and Republicans alike have approved severance payments in the past. He said employees should at least be able to get paid for their accrued leave when they leave their jobs.

As for eliminating committees, Wynn said, ″Now is hardly the time to dissolve that (Post Office) committee. We have had problems across the country - New York, Chicago, here in the Washington area, Virginia as well, with postal service. It is a major function in our society and will continue to be a major function.

″Again I don’t see a rationale for eliminating the committee only to transfer its functions and staffers to some other place.″

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