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Top of the Hill

These leaders and committees will likely play the most prominent roles in the 104th Congress, sherpherding legislation through what is expected to be an active and contentious term.

Senate Leaders

Bob Dole, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER

As Senate leader, 71-year-old Dole will be the gatekeeper for all legislation in the upper chamber. A fiscal conservative and feisty partisan, Dole in the past defended gridlock when it enabled Republicans to block passage of what they considered unnecessary or harmful laws. The Kansan faces several problems in assuming control of the Senate. First, a newly energized House, under Speaker Newt Gingrich, will send the Senate a steady stream of legislation emanating from its conservative “contract with America.” Many Senate Republicans, including Dole himself, have promised publicly to work with House Republicans on a common GOP agenda, but express private reservations about Gingrich and several of the contract’s key provisions. Complicating the balancing act Dole must perform, Senate Republicans have installed a staunch ally of Gingrich and likely presidential rival Phil Gramm as Dole’s second-in-command.

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Trent Lott, SENATE MAJORITY WHIP

As GOP whip, Lott occupies a position that many believe has no place in the stately Senate--that of the political enforcer who does whatever it takes to ensure Republican support of leadership priorities and opposition to Democratic objectives. It is a job that Lott, who served as minority whip in the House during his 16-year tenure there, clearly relishes. The Mississippi lawmaker has made it clear that he wants to mobilize a similar whip operation in the Senate, assembling a team of sub-whips who will impose a new discipline in a body famous for its independent actors. The 53-year-old Lott is a close friend and political ally of Gingrich, but he has sworn his loyalty to Majority Leader Bob Dole, and vowed to follow his lead.

Alfonse D’Amato, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE

As coordinator of the Republicans’ electoral campaigns for the Senate, D’Amato is charged with a delicate and statistically difficult task: to maintain--and perhaps to build--the GOP’s new Senate majority when a third of its members come up for reelection in 1996. But D’Amato’s principal impact is likely to be felt more in the committee chambers than in the smoke-filled rooms of Congress. As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, the pugnacious New York lawmaker will serve as grand inquisitor in the continuing investigation of President and Mrs. Clinton’s ill-fated Whitewater real estate venture and the political scandal that developed around it. D’Amato’s treatment of the evidence in the case will help determine whether Whitewater continues to dog the Clintons.

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Tom Daschle, SENATE MINORITY LEADER

Mild-mannered Daschle would seem to be the least likely person to send into the political ring to battle assertive Senate Republican leaders like Dole and Lott, who excel at partisan sparring. But that appears to be the Senate Democrats’ intent in electing this steady South Dakotan, now serving his second Senate term, as their chief spokesman. Daschle, who beat the more forceful Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut in the race for minority leader, promises to cooperate with Republicans whenever possible. At the same time, he draws clear distinctions between the two parties’ priorities, noting that Senate Democrats intend to focus on policies that address the needs of the middle class and implying that Republicans will seek to serve the interests of the affluent.

KEY SENATE COMMITTEES

* Finance: Like Ways and Means in the House, the Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over all tax measures and big entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and welfare assistance. Last year, its priorities mirrored the Clinton Administration’s. This year, under Oregon Republican Bob Packwood, the panel’s priorities will track those of the Senate’s new GOP majority--foremost among them tax relief. But don’t expect Finance to simply rubber-stamp every tax cut drafted by House Republicans. Like the Senate generally, the committee is dominated by deficit hawks who are leery of Reaganesque supply-side economics.

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* Appropriations: Along with Finance, the Appropriations Committee sits at the pinnacle of power, from which it sets the agenda for the government’s discretionary spending. With one-third of the budget under its thumb, the panel will preside over GOP efforts to cut social spending. Its new chairman, Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, has few peers as an appropriator. One of the GOP’s most liberal members, he criticized many of former President Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, which House Republicans want to resurrect, as regressive.

* Budget: Under incoming chairman Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, the Senate Budget Committee will get first crack at President Clinton’s budget requests. The panel will set the government’s broad fiscal policies, and Domenici’s focus is going to be on cutting government spending, an aide confirmed. A deficit hawk, Domenici favors a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. But his overriding fiscal priority of shrinking the deficit is likely to put him at odds with his party’s tax proposals unless a way is found to pay for them.

House Leaders

Newt Gingrich, HOUSE SPEAKER

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During his 16 years in Congress, Gingrich redefined what it meant to be a partisan warrior. He challenged the patriotism of prominent Democrats, filed ethics complaints to scandalize others and assembled a group of young conservatives who made angry, ideological speeches to an empty chamber, hoping that television viewers watching C-SPAN would be moved. In 1989, the Georgian’s pursuit of ethics charges led to the resignation of Democratic Speaker Jim Wright. Gingrich had arrived, and soon staged an upset victory for the No. 2 post in the Republican leadership. The former Army brat and history professor emerged as the undisputed leader of a new generation of combative Republicans. Gingrich is the principal architect of the GOP’s “contract with America,” which calls for rapid consideration of 10 conservative legislative proposals during the first 100 days of the session.

Dick Armey, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER

A former economics professor and popular figure on the conservative lecture circuit around Dallas, Armey supposedly decided to run for Congress after watching C-SPAN and telling his wife: “I could be as big a fool as those guys.” In 1984 he unseated a popular Democrat in a generally Republican district. He rose quickly as a key figure within a growing circle of aggressive House Republicans led by Gingrich, and in 1982 unseated easygoing Californian Jerry Lewis as the No. 3 figure in the GOP leadership lineup. “The politics of confrontation works,” Armey said at the time. But Armey has demonstrated consensus-building skills as well. He helped fashion the commission plan that allowed Congress to close unneeded military bases. Still, Armey’s instincts are perhaps the most aggressive of any Republican in the House.

Richard A. Gephardt, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER

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Gephardt’s rise within the Democratic Party has been breathtakingly quick. Equipped with sensitive political radar, Gephardt was sent to the House from a working-class area of St. Louis in the post-Watergate class of 1976, and soon became a key player in charting the party’s political course. He is a founding member of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group dedicated to moving the party closer to the political center. In 1988, he ran unsuccessfully for President, pushing a populist, trade-protectionist message. After an ethics scandal rocked the Democratic House leadership in 1989, Gephardt moved into the No. 2 spot behind Speaker Thomas S. Foley. Gephardt is considered an effective orator. His style within the party tends to be consensus-oriented.

David E. Bonior, HOUSE MINORITY WHIP

A former probation officer and adoption caseworker, Bonior is a blend of liberalism and middle-class moderation. He is a devout Catholic and staunch abortion opponent. A Vietnam veteran, he was one of the leading opponents of Ronald Reagan’s intervention in Latin America and George Bush’s Gulf War. A liberal on many social policies, he was probably the most passionate critic of his own President’s North American Free Trade Agreement, because he was convinced it would hurt middle-class workers like his own constituents in the Macomb County suburbs outside Detroit. For several years, Bonior has pursued three primary legislative priorities: middle-class tax relief, health care reform and extended unemployment benefits. He is known as a team player with a knack for parliamentary tactics.

KEY HOUSE COMMITTEES

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* Ways and Means: One of the most powerful committees in Congress, the Ways and Means panel under Rep. Bill Archer (R-Tex.) will have even more clout than usual because of its pivotal role in enacting the tax cuts that form the foundation of the GOP’s “contract with America.” Archer’s views on taxation are considered somewhat extreme even by fellow Republicans: He favors eliminating the federal income tax and replacing it with a national sales levy. The new chairman’s top priorities are cutting the capital gains tax rate, phasing out the “marriage penalty” and raising the limit on outside income for Social Security recipients.

* Appropriations: Other panels are sometimes characterized as altars of influence within the congressional power structure, but the Appropriations Committee is clearly its Vatican. It is no coincidence that its subcommittee chairmen are known as the cardinals; collectively, they exercise the most control over the legislative branch’s power of the purse. Under incoming chairman Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), the 13 subcommittee chairs are being asked to do a most unorthodox thing: to cut spending, not increase it. To ensure they do, Livingston asked each of them to sign a letter pledging their support for the GOP’s “contract with America” before he named them to their posts. Some grumbled privately that the tactic was tantamount to a loyalty oath--but all of them wrote their letters.

* Commerce: The old Energy and Commerce panel had perhaps the widest jurisdiction of any committee in Congress. But the Republicans stripped it of some of its oversight powers over energy and the environment, then gave it a new name and a more focused agenda. One change will be immediately apparent under its new chairman, Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.): The health and environment subcommittee that waged crusades against pollution and smoking under Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) will be more business-friendly. Bliley, who represents a tobacco-dependent district, promises to halt the panel’s ongoing probe of cigarette manufacturers.

* Judiciary: Along with Ways and Means, Judiciary will have jurisdiction over most of the items in the “contract with America.” At its helm is the affable, conservative Henry Hyde of Illinois, who has one flaw in his otherwise diamond-hard conservatism: He is a vocal opponent of the term limits amendment, which must clear his committee before it can move to the House floor. Nevertheless, Hyde has promised incoming Speaker Newt Gingrich that he will send the amendment to the floor early in the session. Judiciary will also be the locus for the GOP’s attempt to rewrite last year’s Democratic crime bill.

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How a Bill Becomes Law

Here is how a typical piece of legislation passes successfully through Congress. A “no” vote along the way can kill the legislation. This hypothetical bill begins in the House, but most bills can begin in either the House or Senate. It must pass both chambers before it can be signed into law by the President.

1) Bill is introduced in the House.

2) Bill is assigned number and title and given to the appropriate committee.

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3) Committee holds hearings to gather facts and opinions on the measure. The committee then debates the bill and possibly offers amendments.

4) House debates and passes bill.

5) House and Senate members confer and reach a compromise.

6) Senate debates and votes on the bill. If defeated, the bill dies. If passed, it goes on to the President. If passed but with changes, it goes to a conference committee. The conference committee is made up of members of both the House and Senate, who work out the differences in the two bills.

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7) House and Senate approves compromise.

8) Bill is sent to the President.

9) President can sign the bill into law, or “veto” the bill by refusing to sign it.

10) If vetoed, the President’s objections are read and debated. A roll-call vote is taken. If the bill gets less than a two-thirds vote, it is dead. But if both chambers pass it by at least a two-thirds majority, the veto is overridden and the bill becomes law.

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Sources: Times staff, Official Washington D.C. Directory


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