- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

In a solid victory, Republicans achieved a net gain of four seats in the Senate, thereby expanding their previously narrow majority (51-48-1) to a much more comfortable advantage (55-44-1). After relinquishing the majority in the “Hillarycare”-instigated electoral disaster of 1994, Senate Democrats briefly reclaimed their power from June 2001 through 2002 before losing it again in the 2002 election. However, the major drubbing they sustained last week means that their liberal stalwarts (Ted Kennedy at the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee; Carl Levin at Armed Services; Patrick Leahy at Judiciary; Paul Sarbanes at Banking; and Tom Harkin at Agriculture) are much further today from re-establishing Democratic senatorial power, which the party wielded uninterrupted for more than a quarter century before Ronald Reagan’s coattails swept in a Republican majority in 1980.

Still the Democratic drubbing does not mean there will not be a round of musical chairs among Senate committee leaders. The six-year term limit that Senate Republicans established for their party’s committee chairmen will be implemented for the first time at the beginning of the 109th Congress in January. This will require several important changes when the GOP caucus meets before then to organize the Senate.

Most notably, Orrin Hatch will give up his Judiciary Committee chairmanship, opening the way for Arlen Specter, the liberal Pennsylvania Republican who is the only GOP member of Judiciary who supports abortion rights. Mr. Specter gained his Senate seat in 1980 thanks to Mr. Reagan’s coattails. The freshman senator expressed his gratitude by casting the deciding vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 rejecting Mr. Reagan’s nomination of then-U.S. Attorney (and current U.S. Senator) Jefferson Sessions 3rd to be a federal district judge. The next year Mr. Specter voted against Robert Bork for the Supreme Court.

Beyond the ongoing controversy involving Mr. Specter’s possible elevation, other committee changes will see the chairman’s baton pass from Alaska’s Ted Stevens on Appropriations to Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Meanwhile, Arizona’s John McCain, fresh from capturing more than 75 percent of the vote last week, will be succeeded by Mr. Stevens as chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. On his way to claiming the Armed Services chairmanship in 2006, Mr. McCain may spend the next two years atop the Indian Affairs Committee. Don Nickles’ retirement opens the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, which Judd Gregg of New Hampshire might claim. To do so, however, Mr. Gregg would have to relinquish his chairmanship of the health and education committee, whose top spot would then be nabbed by second-term Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming.

With the exception of Mr. Specter, none of these changes portends problems.

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