The New Senate Chiefs
After months of hand-wringing about the risks of Rep. Charles Rangel's defunding the Iraq war or Rep. John Conyers's moving to impeach the president, Republicans unexpectedly have a batch of Democratic committee chairmen in the Senate to worry about as well. The lineup is nearly identical to the one Bush faced from 2001 to 2003, but the Democrats have renewed enthusiasm this time and a like-minded leadership in the House. Here are the future chairmen of the most powerful committees:
Appropriations West Virginia's Robert Byrd is the longest-serving senator in American history, has been on Appropriations since 1959, and has been its chairman or ranking minority member since 1989. In 1990, Byrd proudly announced that he wanted "to be West Virginia's billion-dollar industry,'' and he has been extremely aggressive at bringing money to his state. A staunch defender of the Senate's power, he is known as a fierce critic of Bush's tax cuts and one of the most consistent and vocal opponents of the Iraq war.
Armed Services Michigan Sen. Carl Levin's calm demeanor belies his strong opposition to Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq and the administration's handling of the war since then. In the run-up to the invasion, Levin urged the United States to seek U.N. approval for going to war, and he has used his position as the committee's ranking minority member to highlight prisoner abuse, secret CIA prisons, and military spending he sees as wasteful. This year, he was the driving force behind a failed nonbinding resolution urging a withdrawal from Iraq by the end of the year.
Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Ranking Democrat Paul Sarbanes is retiring, so the chairmanship will pass to Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd. Connecticut has long been a center for insurance companies, and Dodd has faithfully represented them and opposed trial lawyers.
Budget Nicknamed "the chart man" for his love of financial graphs, North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad has been outspoken against the deficit spending of the Bush administration. He opposed the Bush tax cuts but was one of 11 Democratic senators to vote for the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill.
Energy and Natural Resources Working largely behind the scenes, New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman has proved his willingness to cooperate with Republicans on energy legislation. He generally favors efforts to encourage renewable energy development and tighten standards for automobile fuel economy and energy efficiency for appliances, and he will very likely bring to the chairmanship a focus on global warming.
Finance Though you wouldn't know it from looking at its statewide officeholders, Montana is a red state, a fact Sen. Max Baucus seems keenly aware of. He has worked closely with Republican Finance Chairman Charles Grassley at producing bipartisan consensus and will most likely continue to do so now that their roles are reversed. He is, however, a partisan when it comes to Bush administration plans for Social Security.
Foreign Relations Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware is not as strident about the Iraq war as some of his Democratic colleagues; he is harshly critical of the administration's handling of the war but does not back wholesale withdrawal. The position could score points with people on both sides of the political spectrum, and Biden will probably be a leading voice as the Democratic Party refines its position on Iraq.
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Massachusetts's unabashedly liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy has been a long-standing supporter of minimum wage hikes and improving access to healthcare. The same issues have been noted by Democratic leaders as priorities in the new Congress, and Kennedy is set to be a leader in both efforts. He initially supported President Bush's No Child Left Behind plan for education but has since been critical of its implementation.
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Fresh off his victory as an independent against Democratic nominee Ned Lamont, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman received a strong mandate from voters for a foreign policy agenda that includes dogged support for the Iraq war. With a slim one-seat majority in the Senate, Democrats will have to reckon with Lieberman when promoting changes in Iraq. But for all the praise GOP leaders heaped on him during the campaign, Lieberman is no Republican and will most likely use his position as chairman to continue to oppose the Bush administration's environmental policies.
Intelligence Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2003 but has since said he regretted the decision and has been a strong voice for investigations into the intelligence used to promote the war. He was one of a handful of senators who voted against the confirmation of CIA Director Porter Goss but expressed cautious praise this week for the nomination of former CIA Director Robert Gates to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Judiciary Republicans accused Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy of obstructing confirmation of Bush's judiciary nominees when he held the post from 2001 to 2003, and the president's vision of crafting a conservative court will probably have to be toned down now. Leahy voted to confirm John G. Roberts to the Supreme Court but against Samuel Alito. Moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, himself no stranger to rankling the administration, will go back to being minority ranking member.