Friday, November 19, 2004


A GOP Senatorial Change in Tactics...

The Republican Conference changed its rules yesterday to give Majority Leader Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) new powers to ensure party discipline.

A coalition of loyalist and new senators managed unexpectedly to push through the more sweeping version of the proposed changes, defeating a watered-down proposal.

The stronger one, which passed on a 27-26 secret-ballot vote, allows Frist to fill half of all vacancies on “A” committees as he chooses. The other half would be made by seniority, the traditional way Republicans award committee slots.

“It certainly leaves the option open for significant changes in the way we do business around here,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an opponent of the idea.

Critics warned that Frist could use his new powers to punish those who challenge party orthodoxy and reward those to toe the leadership line. Asked how he would employ his new powers, Frist told The Hill, “Sensibly, reasonably, responsibly.” He said he looked forward to “maximizing the strength of each U.S. Senate member.”

But Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a maverick who has criticized White House strategy, said, “I’m one who believes we must always be careful of centralization of power in any institution. We have to be careful with this. It has some unintended consequences.”

Most senators expressed optimism that Frist would wield the new authority wisely.

“See how it works,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “Change is good,” he added.
Opponents of the idea mostly rallied around a weaker version, sponsored by conference Chairman Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), which would grant the leader the ability to appoint two slots on each “A” committee as they became available.

One GOP aide said the stronger version prevailed partly because of support from a newly elected crop of seven GOP senators, who stand to gain from it. Since there were two mutually exclusive proposals on the table, “there was no middle ground,” the aide said.

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