Friday, May 25, 2001

Switch erodes Tristate clout




By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — The decision Thursday by Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords to leave the Republican Party and become an independent throws power in the Senate to the Democrats and strips Tristate lawmakers of plum committee assignments.

        Democrats now will set the legislative agenda and select lawmakers to chair committees and subcommittees.

        Despite the loss of power, Sen Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, “We're a long way from dead. We intend to advance the president's agenda.”

        Here are the likely changes for Tristate senators:

        Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, will lose his chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety and the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring and the District of Columbia.

        Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, will have to give up his chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Business Rights and Competition and the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia.

        Mr. McConnell, will have to relinquish the chairmanship of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

        Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., will lose his chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Economic Policy.

        Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., will give up his chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

        Mr. DeWine also could lose a coveted slot on the Senate Appropriations Committee because he has the least seniority among Republicans. Republican staffers could lose their jobs when the power ratios lean toward Democrats.

        “People are going to lose their jobs. People are going to have to change their plans,” Mr. DeWine said. “It's tough.”

        Mr. Bunning described Mr. Jeffords' decision as a pretty drastic step.

        “While he has had a number of policy differences with the Republican Party in recent years, I could not have imagined that he would leave our party and single-handedly lead Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy into control of the U.S. Senate.”

        Mr. Voinovich said the power shift should not have a dramatic change on public policy because “bipartisanship simply is part of the chamber's tradition.” He said he was disappointed with Mr. Jeffords' move, but respects the Vermont lawmaker's convictions.

        “Though I think he can effect more real change for the issues that matter to him as a member of the Republican conference than as a Democrat, the message from this incident should be clear to all: Neither party can govern successfully without reaching out to people of different views.”

        With the Senate narrowly ruled by Democrats and the House in Republican control, the political dynamic is more uncertain for President Bush, who has made steady progress with Congress on his tax and education proposals but now may have to appeal to moderates and liberals to accomplish his agenda.

        Mr. DeWine, who with Mr. Voinovich traveled with Mr. Bush on a trip Thursday to Cleveland, said the president was philosophical and upbeat. He said Mr. Bush pointed out that he needed some Democratic support for his tax and education plans.

        Mr. DeWine said he respects Mr. Jeffords but disagreed with his conclusion that the party had no place for moderates.

        “That's absurd,” said Mr. DeWine, who added that Mr. Jeffords could have worked within the party to accomplish some of his goals.

       Gannett News Service reporter Barbara DeLollis contributed.
       

       



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