The retirements of Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills), Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) and more than two dozen other members of Congress next year are creating opportunities for lawmakers who are left behind.
Whenever a senior member leaves, everyone else moves up a notch in Congress' massive system of committees and subcommittees.
When Moorhead relinquishes his chairmanship of the subcommittee overseeing intellectual property issues, at least two colleagues will be anxious to fill the post--Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) and Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.).
For his part, Beilenson will vacate a senior spot on the Rules Committee, a sought-after assignment that is likely to prompt considerable interest among Democrats.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), meanwhile, may be in line for the ranking Democratic slot on the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which oversees the federal civil service system, the Postal Service and other government matters. The position will be opening next term with the retirement of Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.). If the Democrats should recover the majority in the House, considered a longshot, Waxman could become the committee chairman. While Beilenson and Moorhead will lose their congressional clout in retirement, they have hefty pensions ahead of them.
The National Taxpayers Union Foundation estimates that Beilenson will receive $60,390--about half his current $133,600 salary--in his first year of retirement and an estimated $1.7 million over his lifetime.
Moorhead will receive $81,432 in 1997, and $1.2 million over his lifetime, according to the watchdog group.
"Congressional pensions are typically two to three times more generous than those in the private sector and even more generous than pensions for federal workers," said James Davidson, president of the taxpayers union.
The group's estimates are based on the length of federal service, age at time of retirement, average life expectancy and a cost of living adjustment of 4% a year. They do not include the additional retirement pay the two men will be receiving for their previous careers in the California Assembly.
There are few other members of the Los Angeles City Council that are bigger fans of the city's beleaguered police force than Laura Chick.
Almost since taking office, Chick has worked to persuade firms and corporations to donate dozens of computers to help police improve efficiency. In fact, she is so close to the cops that her Canoga Park field office adjoins LAPD's West Valley Division.
So some observers of Wednesday's council meeting may have been confused when Chick argued against letting the LAPD use about $295,000 from a police bond measure to pay for modular furniture for a new police recruitment center in downtown Los Angeles.
Chick argued that voters approved the bond measure to pay for new police stations and other facilities and that spending the money on furniture breaks faith with voters who already fear that their tax dollars are being misspent.
That is one reason, she said, that voters rejected a $171-million police facilities bond measure earlier this year.
"I feel we have played around with these bond measures," she said.
Instead of using the bond money, Chick suggested that the city pay for the furniture with general fund money that is set aside for such costs.
Councilwoman Rita Walters and others disagreed. Walters argued that voters approved the bond measure because they wanted to help bolster the Police Department, a goal furthered by the purchase of the furniture.
Walters also noted that the department is in bad shape, both due to low morale and lack of funds. Furthermore, the city's general fund is expected to face a $200-million deficit next year, she said. So, spending $295,000 of the bond money on furniture make sense, Walters argued.
In the end, Chick's argument to live within the letter of the law won out when the council voted 11-4 to use general fund money--and not bond money--for the furniture.
When House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) speaks, his Republican colleagues listen. An analysis of 805 votes in the 104th Congress shows that members of the GOP are united behind their party to an unprecedented degree. And area lawmakers are some of the most loyal.
Overall, House Republicans voted with their leadership 91.8% of the time through Tuesday, prompting critics to condemn the GOP for voting in lock step with their boss. Democrats, on the other hand, were a more disparate lot, casting 82.8% of their ballots with the party line.
"By marching in lock step with Speaker Gingrich, Republican House members are not exercising independent critical judgment or serving the best interests of their constituents," said Tony Winnicker of Citizen Action, a consumer group that prepared the study.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) had one of the most pro-GOP voting records of all, casting 96.9% of his ballots with the speaker. Only three others in the entire House ranked higher.
"I'm proud of every vote I've taken," Gallegly said, dismissing Winnicker's claim that his record shows a lack of independence. "I like to be a trooper for my party but I voted [last year] against NAFTA, even when the party was pushing hard for it. If I hadn't maintained my independence, I would be at 100%."
Despite his personal disagreements with Gingrich, Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) has agreed with the him philosophically. He has cast 96.6% of his ballots with the Gingrich-led House.
Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) follows close behind, with a rating of 96.1%, tying for No. 15 in his overlap with Gingrich.
Democrats have never had the party loyalty that Republicans are managing, although they have come close.
During the first year of President Clinton's term, with Democrats controlling both Congress and the White House, Democratic lawmakers supported their party 87.8% of the time. In 1992, with President Bush in the White House and Democrats running Congress, Democrats voted together 86.5% of the time.
Needless to say, area Democrats have not been big Gingrich backers this year.
Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) voted with him just 27.6% of the time and his two San Fernando Valley-area colleagues were even less agreeable. Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) agreed with the GOP on just 22.9% of votes, while Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) had a 22.4% rating.
San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services received a hint of good news this week when President Clinton vetoed an appropriations bill that would have scaled back federal involvement in legal aid programs to the poor.
House and Senate Republicans proposed a reduction in next year's Legal Services Corp. budget from $400 million to $278 million and recommended limits on what types of cases low-income people could pursue with federal dollars. It is the Legal Services Corp. that provides the bulk of the funding for more than 300 legal aid groups across the country, the San Fernando Valley organization among them.
Critics of the current system say the Legal Services Corp. has gone far beyond its mission of providing basic legal services to the poor and now gets involved in class action suits and liberal advocacy work.
But those who run San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Legal Services say the Pacoima-based group is often the last place for area poor people to go. With some 40 staffers, the organization serves thousands of low-income residents throughout the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.
Clinton's veto does not resolve the battle over funding for legal aid, but it gives backers of the program time to make one more pitch for more federal support.
"The uncertainty is obviously very difficult for us and our clients because we don't know exactly what we'll be able to do for them next year," said Neal Dudovitz, who heads the San Fernando legal aid group. "We're very concerned."
On the Bias
Normally, Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson loves a good joke. A rough-and-tumble lawmaker with a sense of humor to match, Bernson can rattle off dozens of jokes that begin with a guy walking into a bar.
But he wasn't laughing this week when his colleagues were yukking it up about a measure to rein in the mayor's influence over the city's Ethics Commission.
The mayor currently appoints the president and a second member to the five-member panel. The three remaining members are appointed by the president of the City Council, the city attorney and the city controller.
Councilman Mike Feuer, a freshman who campaigned hard for ethics reforms, proposed a charter amendment that allows the mayor to appoint only one member and lets the commission pick its president from among its five members.
Feuer proposed the amendment after Riordan's recently appointed president, Raquelle de la Rocha, helped rally the commission to fire its longtime executive director Ben Bycel.
The joking in council began when Councilman Joel Wachs said he thinks commission members should not be appointed by the very elected officials that the commission must scrutinize.
Council President John Ferraro jokingly suggested that the appointments be made by The Times.
"I said it had to be someone who is unbiased," Wachs said laughing.
"OK, the Daily News," Ferraro quipped.
"Maybe the Foothill Leader," Wachs joked.
That is when Bernson spoke up, saying choosing members for the Ethics Commission is no laughing matter.
Indeed, Bernson does not joke about the Ethics Commission, particularly since it severely criticized him two years ago for failing to return $10,000 in laundered campaign contributions that he unwittingly accepted. The commission also blasted him last year, saying he spent more than $158,000 in campaign funds on questionable expenses, such as foreign travel and expensive meals.
He has argued that the commission staff has a vendetta against him.
"Some of you are laughing, but some of you have not been victims of these people," Bernson said.
Nate Holden, who has had his own run-ins with the commission, agreed. "Mr. Bernson is correct: It's selective persecution or prosecution."
With that, the joking ended and the council voted to draft Feuer's proposal to place it on the November 1996 ballot.
Lacey reported from Washington, D.C. and Martin from Los Angeles.