Those at the helm of the House of Representatives of the 105th Congress will look remarkably similar to those in the leadership of the last legislature. But despite the reelection last week of familiar faces, on both sides of the aisle, there will be a telling shift in the way this Congress works.
The revolutionary fervor has subsided and the power wielded by the Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich will be diluted. Mr. Gingrich has promised that no longer will controversial bills, such as the automatic weapons ban and a school prayer amendment, be shipped straight from Gingrich's inner circle of advisers to the House floor for a vote. At the time, bypassing some of his own committee chairmen was seen as a tactical move to ensure that the Contract With America was acted upon quickly. But it was also a source of friction within Republican ranks during the last Congress.
By broadening the Republican leadership circle and allowing the "regular" process of vetting legislation by committee chairmen, the House leadership is giving moderates within the GOP more say and Gingrich is relinquishing some control.
"This will be a different Congress, therefore as Speaker I'll probably function differently," said Gingrich Friday.
More consensus building
The Speaker still faces an ethics investigation and because the political environment is different now, Gingrich is likely to put more emphasis on consensus building. That also means this is likely to be a slower-acting Congress.
In 1985, to enact the Contract With America, Republicans embarked on a forced march in January and February that left representatives exhausted. The 105th will be a much more deliberative body, GOP leaders say. "None of us has the courage to go back [to the caucus] and announce another 100 days," Gingrich said.
During the 104th Congress, a seven-member Speaker's Advisory Group (SAG) often wrote legislation and sent it directly to the House floor. Republicans agreed to dissolve the SAG and replace it with an expanded group of 22 members, including rotating representatives from the moderate "Tuesday Lunch Bunch" and the Conservative Action Team.
Moderates and conservatives, who were frustrated about being left out of leadership discussions and about being forced to vote with no warning on controversial legislation, voiced approval. "We feel very good. We're at the table now, we've got an early warning system," said moderate Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan.
"I think we'll have a better process," said conservative Rep. Henry Hyde of (R) Illinois, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "I think there will be more collegiality among people that count."
While both Democrats and Republicans are also paying lip service to bipartisanship and cooperation, a spat that could quickly undermine the honeymoon erupted over the ethics committee investigating charges against Gingrich.
A storm arose over news reports that Gingrich had delegated to majority leader Dick Armey (R) of Texas the task of choosing new members of the Ethics Committee to replace those whose terms were expiring. According to House rules, a member can serve only three two-year terms on the unpopular committee unless the House votes otherwise. All but three of the 10 committee members, including chairwoman Nancy Johnson (R) of Connecticut, are due to be replaced when the House reconvenes in January. Mr. Armey proposed leaving in place those four committee members who are on the subcommittee conducting the inquiry.
Ethics of ethics committee posts
Reelected minority whip David Bonior (D) of Michigan immediately jumped on the issue, charging that GOP leaders were using "an obscure House rule" to "pick a new judge, rig the jury, and undermine the investigation."
"This is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to further delay the verdict and keep the American people from knowing the truth," Mr. Bonior charged, demanding that the full committee be kept intact until the investigation is completed.
Armey and minority leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri met Friday and reportedly discussed the possibility of leaving the current committee in place while naming new Ethics Committee members to handle questions other than the Gingrich inquiry. No decision was reached, but the two agreed to meet again next month.
"We intend to make every effort to find a fair, impartial, and bipartisan solution," the two said in a joint statement after their meeting.
The Democrats made no changes in their leadership. Republicans reelected all returning committee chairmen to their posts. One of the few GOP changes was the election of Jennifer Dunn of Washington as conference secretary, replacing the retiring Barbara Vucanovich of Nevada. Representative Dunn says one of her duties will be "analyzing the gender gap and why it's hurt us each election since about 1980."