- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Senior Democratic lawmakers in the House must now be wondering if they will ever become chairmen of the committees where they have spent decades climbing the seniority ladder. In the Senate, many of them must be despairing over the strong possibility that they will never become committee chairmen again.

Democratic Rep. John Dingell, the dean of the House who was elected in 1955, chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee from 1981 through 1994. Mr. Dingell has been around so long that a former staffer, John Conyers, is now the House’s second-most senior member. He was elected in 1964 and became chairman of the Government Operations Committee in 1989. Both men lost their chairmanships in 1995 following the 1994 Democratic debacle, which was in part precipitated by the colossal collapse of then-first lady Hillary Clinton’s health-care plan. Since 1995, Mr. Conyers has been laboring as the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, which the 75-year-old congressman will almost certainly never chair. Thirty-year House veteran Henry Waxman, the ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee who once chaired Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on health and the environment, probably salivates at the possibility of re-acquiring subpoena power inherent in majority status. He will likely end his congressional career without consummating that urge.

Barney Frank has spent nearly a quarter century accumulating seniority, but his political career will almost certainly end before he becomes chairman of the Financial Services Committee. Tom Lantos has spent just as long chasing his dream of chairing the House International Relations Committee, with comparably futile results.

In the Senate, where most senior Democrats tasted the power of committee chairmanships either before 1995 or during the Democrats’ brief majority (June 2001 to December 2002), the agony is palpable. Consider Joe Biden. He was first elected to the Senate in 1972 at the age of 29 and became chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 1987 at the age of 44, when he was the second-ranking Democrat on Foreign Relations.

Patrick Leahy, the 30-year liberal who has served as chairman of both the Agriculture Committee (before 1995) and the Judiciary Committee (2001-02), will likely finish his political career as ranking minority member of the latter. Carl Levin of Michigan and Maryland’s Paul Sarbanes, both of whom have toiled in the Senate for more than a quarter century, will probably end their careers as the ranking members of the armed services and banking committees.

Democratic stalwarts Teddy Kennedy (elected in 1962) and Robert Byrd (elected four years earlier), who have chaired the labor and appropriations committees, will never likely taste power again.

Meanwhile, freshman Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose health-care debacle helped to plunge her party into minority status in Congress, is drawing some rave reviews for her work on the Armed Services Committee, which she hopes will catapult her into the White House.

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