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Congressmen Given Duties Amid Decline in Seniority

February 05, 1989|CLAUDIA LUTHER | Times Political Writer

The all-important business of congressional committee assignments was completed last week, thus shaping for the next 2 years--and probably well into the future--the influence that can be wielded by Orange County's five Republican congressmen.

The assignments were made in the face of a huge net loss in seniority for the county's congressional delegation that was a result of the retirement of Reps. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach) and Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach).

"The county delegation has lost 11 terms, between me and Lungren," said Badham, who was ranking member of the procurement and military nuclear systems subcommittee of the important Armed Services Committee. "But time goes on, and someday every member of Congress is going to have gone, one at a time. So those things happen, and you must make it the best you can."

Orange County's two new members of Congress--C. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who replaced Badham, and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Lomita), who took Lungren's place--are starting the slow climb through committee rankings in the House of Representatives. Long before they were sworn in on Jan. 3, both actively lobbied for spots on committees that not only deal with the important issues of their districts but also offer members of Congress a path to power.

The newcomers join the county's three congressional veterans--William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and Ron C. Packard (R-Carlsbad)--on the team that represents Orange County on such matters such as water, transportation, foreign affairs, education and energy. Legislation affecting these issues and others is molded in the House's 21 standing and six select committees and 154 subcommittees before being taken up on the floor.

The best committee and subcommittee assignments, including all chairmanships, go to Democrats, who control the House. The best Orange County's congressmen--all Republicans--can hope for is to earn enough seniority to become a "ranking member" or distinguish themselves in other ways that get them heard over and above their colleagues.

"Those who are most effective on committees," said Henry A. Waxman, a powerful House Democrat from Los Angeles, "are those that get involved in legislation, who build up some expertise and show a willingness to really dig into the details of these complex legislative issues."

Nothing gets to the House floor that is not first thought about, talked about, negotiated, refined and studied--sometimes ad nauseum-- at the subcommittee and committee level. And, while there is plenty of movement among committees, staying put on one panel helps stack up years of seniority that can get members of Congress added influence on issues of concern to them.

The weeks following an election, well into January, are devoted to lobbying for good committee spots. Assignments to full committees were made in the first week of January; reorganization of subcommittees will continue into next week.

Members of Congress generally look to the needs of their individual districts in requesting assignments. There is also much competition for such committees as Ways and Means, Appropriations and Rules, where important decisions are made about how money is spent and what legislation gets to the floor.

But often mentioned among the most important committees is Energy and Commerce, which has one Orange County congressmen, Dannemeyer, among its minority members. Dannemeyer is on the committee's health and environment subcommittee, where he has promoted his sometimes extreme views on homosexuality and AIDS.

Since 1985, Dannemeyer has also been a member of the Judiciary Committee, where he champions conservative constitutional amendments.

This year, Dornan got the spot he has long wanted on the House Armed Services Committee.

But to do it, the 56-year-old former Air Force fighter pilot had to give up his memberships on the Foreign Affairs Committee (where he was 10th in seniority among 18 Republicans) and the Veterans Affairs Committee (where he was 11th of 13 Republicans).

"Dumping everything to go on Armed Services--to me, I wouldn't have done it that way," Badham said of Dornan's move. "He must have a reason to do it, but I can't see what it is."

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), who won a tough battle this year to be appointed to the Budget Committee, defended Dornan's action.

"On the Republican side, it's a little bit different," Berman said. "You're in the minority. So it's not like he was going to be a subcommittee chairman or something. Second of all, Dornan's true love is defense issues."

Dornan got the Armed Services Committee assignment after a year of lobbying that began when Badham announced he would not seek reelection. Badham occupied one of the Republicans' two so-called "California seats" on the 52-member committee.

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