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Cunningham Gets Armed Services Seat : Congress: Bates’ successor wins coveted appointment, plus a spot on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Winning a key committee assignment befitting his military background, U.S. Rep. Randall (Duke) Cunningham (R-San Diego) was appointed Friday to the House Armed Services Committee.

Cunningham, a highly decorated former Navy fighter pilot who narrowly defeated four-term Democrat Jim Bates in last November’s 44th Congressional District race, won the coveted seat on the Armed Services panel in addition to a place on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee.

Cunningham, who was sworn in Thursday, will join another local congressman, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Coronado), on the Armed Services Committee, and will be the only member of the San Diego delegation to serve on the Merchant Marine panel, which oversees shipbuilding, harbor and waterway improvements as well as the commercial fishing industry.

“Both the Armed Services and Merchant Marine committees are of critical importance to the 44th District and the San Diego area,” Cunningham said. “I am pleased and honored that my colleagues have seen fit to trust me with these important assignments.”

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In another critical committee assignment, Rep. William E. Dannemeyer, the combative Orange County conservative who is a strident critic of congressional spending and an unabashed booster of the gold standard, won a 10-year fight for a coveted seat on the House Budget Committee.

The decision by House Republicans to put Dannemeyer on the 35-member committee, which plays a key role in setting overall spending limits for the government, is a major victory for the Fullerton Republican, who has sought the position since shortly after he was first elected to Congress in 1978.

“I am elated,” said the 61-year-old lawmaker. “It’s been a long struggle. . . . I think (the appointment) gives my work in this area more credibility.”

Dannemeyer has long been a thorn in the side of House Democrats--and more than a few Republicans--by voting against major bills that call for spending increases that exceed the rate of inflation. Although his stand has earned him the enmity of colleagues who describe it as hopelessly unrealistic, it has garnered a host of awards from taxpayer watchdog groups.

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In an interview, Dannemeyer defended his votes. “If a majority of members of Congress had my voting record on spending issues, we’d have a balanced budget today,” he said. “Wouldn’t that be a pity?”

Dannemeyer also has suggested that the United States return to the gold standard, backing its currency with bullion to reduce interest costs and restore integrity to federal borrowing. At the very least, Dannemeyer said, the government should issue gold-backed bonds to cut the $250-billion annual cost of interest on the national debt. Although some ridicule the suggestion, several conservative economists have embraced the concept of gold-backed bonds.

The move to put Dannemeyer on the Budget Committee was largely the result of efforts by Rep. Ron Packard (R-Carlsbad), who represents California on the Republican Committee on Committees, the panel that makes GOP committee assignments.

Packard won his seat on the panel last month, ousting Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), with the strong backing of Dannemeyer and other California conservatives. Packard’s district includes southern Orange County.

Another California Republican who won a key House committee assignment Friday was Frank Riggs (R-Windsor), who received a spot on the Public Works and Transportation Committee.

“Overall, we were extremely successful in placing our California members on the committees they desired,” Packard said in a statement released by his office. “I am particularly happy that Mr. Dannemeyer made the Budget Committee after 10 years of trying. He probably knows more about the budget process than any other member of the House.”

The federal budget, along with the crisis in the Persian Gulf, is shaping up as one of the most divisive issues of the 102nd Congress, which convened Thursday. On the first day of the new session, Democrats, who control the House 267-167, rammed through a budget rule that immediately set off a Republican firestorm.

The complex rule essentially gives an arm of the Congress, and not the White House, authority to set budget estimates for major new social legislation. Republicans charged that in passing the rule, Democrats broke a pledge made during last fall’s acrimonious negotiations over a five-year, $500- billion deficit-reduction package.

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Referring to Dannemeyer’s appointment to the Budget Committee the day after the rules fight, one Republican staff member said: “OK, the Democrats got away with all the shenanigans on the rules yesterday. Well today, we said, Merry Christmas!”

A Democratic staffer who works on budget issues literally was speechless when informed of Dannemeyer’s appointment.

Dannemeyer also serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Judiciary Committee. One aide suggested that he may have to take a leave from his post on the Judiciary Committee in order to serve on the budget panel. However, another staff member said Republicans are prepared to grant Dannemeyer a waiver to serve on all three committees.

Times staff writer Barry Horstman in San Diego contributed to this story.


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