- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2000

Forget "Speaker Gephardt" Republicans are hoping the prospects of "Chairman Rangel" and "Chairman Waxman" will scare voters enough to help the GOP hold onto its narrow majority in the House in the November elections.
"It would be a chamber of horrors for the economy, for the family, and for our neighborhoods," said Mike Collins, spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
Republicans are quietly injecting the topic into their campaign message, noting that several committees would pass into the hands of unabashed liberals. The Ways and Means Committee, for example, would likely be chaired by Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat; the Judiciary Committee would pass to Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat; and the Government Reform Committee would pass to Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat.
"It's frightening," said RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson. "I think once the American people Republicans, swing voters and independents begin to focus on the election, focus on what it means to have these [Democrats] chairing key committees, they are going to get terrified."
Democrats need to pick up only five seats in the 2000 election to retake control of the House of Representatives after six years of Republican control. Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, has made retaking the House a high priority.
It seems likely that most of the senior or ranking Democratic members on the committees today will win re-election and would move up to the chairmanship in a Democratic majority.
Mr. Rangel, Republicans are fond of pointing out, is a dogged opponent of Republican tax-cut measures. He would be taking over Congress' main tax-writing committee. Mr. Conyers was a leading defender of the president during the 1998 impeachment process, accusing Republicans of staging a "coup d'etat."
Mr. Waxman is the leading Democratic opponent of the tobacco industry, working tirelessly to restrict smoking, and is the leading critic of the Republican inquiry into questionable Democratic fund raising in 1996.
Democrats don't deny that their focus would be entirely different than the current Republican leadership. They promise a more activist federal role, particularly in health care and education.
Mr. Rangel is unimpressed with the Republican criticism, saying he is used to being a target of conservative wrath. But he pledged to deal with Republicans fairly if given the chance to head the committee, which controls federal tax policy.
"The truth of the matter is, although you don't get more partisan than Charlie Rangel … with trade bills and tax bills you can't have a Democratic and Republican position if you're legislating," Mr. Rangel said.
The Republican criticism of the likely chairmen "tells me this: The House Republicans are bankrupt of ideas," said Erik Smith, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The don't have any positive argument as to why they should be elected, all they have is a negative argument about why we shouldn't."
The liberal group Americans for Democratic Action gives high marks to the would-be Democratic chairmen: Mr. Rangel scores a 90 percent in supporting liberal causes last year; Mr. Waxman rated 95 percent; Mr. Conyers scored 100.
The nonpartisan, but more conservative, U.S. Chamber of Commerce takes a dimmer view of a Democratic takeover. The organization gives the Democratic leaders low marks: Mr. Rangel and Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and likely successor as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, both score 18 percent on pro-business issues.
Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez of New York, the likely Democrat chairman of the Small Business Committee, scores just 14 percent.
"It's pretty much the numbers that tell the story," chamber spokesman Frank Coleman said. "This is something business needs to be concerned about."
In some cases, the Republican criticism appears exaggerated. One Republican official raised the specter of Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Democrat, becoming chairman of the Armed Services military personnel subcommittee, saying he "hates the military."
But a look at his record shows that Mr. Abercrombie, an avid anti-war protester in the Vietnam era and among the most liberal members of the House, routinely breaks with his Democratic colleagues on defense policy. He is an advocate of larger budgets for the Pentagon, which is a cornerstone of the Hawaiian economy, and favors development of a limited missile defense program, although he opposes a sweeping space-based system.
In other cases, the likely Democratic chairman are not particularly left leaning. The Agriculture Committee would likely go to Rep. Charles W. Stenholm, Texas Democrat and one of his party's most conservative members. He was one of only five Democrats to vote to impeach President Clinton in 1998 and he helped draft the balanced budget constitutional amendment that passed the House, but failed in the Senate, in 1995.
Likewise, the Armed Services Committee would probably pass into the hands of another maverick Democrat, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri. While he is unafraid to wage rhetorical battles with Republicans, Mr. Skelton agrees with them on many defense issues, including increasing the overall Pentagon budget and boosting military pay. On non-defense issues, such as abortion and gun control, he tends to side with conservative Republicans.
But Republicans are not comforted.
Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, said the most conservative Democrats tend to be the backbenchers, not the leaders who will be chairmen.
"To vote for a Democrat," Mr. Norquist said, "is to put the most hard-left people in charge of those committees."


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