- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

This week, House Republicans began the final selection process of replacing 12 committee chairs, honoring a commitment that they made more than half a decade ago.

Committee chairmanships being contested range from the Armed Services to Ways and Means, and since seniority is no longer the sole determinant for committee chairs, all of the candidates have to go through the interview process. According to a recent article in Roll Call, "Even the most senior members of the Conference will be required to appear before their peers and make their cases, including 13-term Rep. Henry Hyde."

Republicans promulgated the term limits after being swept into power in the 1994 elections in response to the abuses of longstanding Democratic chairs such as Dan Rostenkowski and John Dingell, who made their committees virtual fiefdoms. According to a Congressional Quarterly article written shortly after the 1994 elections, "The result was expected to be a more fluid committee system in which chairmen would come and go with far more regularity than in the past."

The process is expected to "Funnel in new ideas, new enthusiasm and new blood," according to John Feehery, press secretary for Speaker Hastert, and it has already encouraged members to compete on both seniority and substance, on both vision and execution.

It would have been easy for Republicans to ignore, or at least modify the rules on term limits, since they hold merely a five-seat majority in the House, the Senate is more evenly divided than it has been in well over a century, and mid-term elections are rarely kind to the majority party. Besides, the atmosphere in Washington is already rancorous and partisan, especially considering the bitter feelings aroused by Al Gore's persistent pursuit of the presidency. Moreover, term limits mattered little to most voters this year, and Newt Gingrich gave up the speaker's gavel long ago. In many ways, the last thing that House Republicans need is the chaos inherent in practically any selection process and the inevitable learning curves that the new committee chairs will have to ride.

Yet the Republican leadership in the House believed that a promise made should be a promise kept, and they have held to the mainsail of commitment in spite of the stormy congressional session that lies ahead. In doing so, they have demonstrated that they are a party of principle and law.

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