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ELECTIONS '94 : House Plays Musical Chairs; Gingrich Calls Tune : Congress: The GOP takeover will bring radical changes to leadership of key committees. Milder shifts are seen in the Senate.

November 10, 1994|THOMAS B. ROSENSTIEL and ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — For years, Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez), a staunch environmentalist, has battled developers as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Now his fight is over. Come January, Miller is expected to be replaced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), a strong proponent of development whose peeves include the strict government regulation of millions of acres of federal land in his state. As a member of the minority, the once-powerful Miller will have little sway over the committee agenda.

As the switch on the Natural Resources panel shows, the 1995 Congress will be vastly different from the old. Every gavel of every committee of Congress will be in different hands. Conservative Republicans will take over chairmanships from often-liberal lawmakers and will decide what hearings are held, what legislation is considered and what the rules are.

In the House, a good many committees and certainly subcommittees may no longer even exist.

The likely new Speaker, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), has vowed to slash congressional staff by at least a third and radically reconfigure the committee structure.

In the Senate, with the exception of the ascendancy of a few high profile chairmen such as Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) and Jesse Helms (R-S.C.), most experts predict that the differences will not be as great.

"Most of these people who will be taking over the House have very little profile, and no meaningful legislative record other than voting," said Allen Shick, a professor of political science at George Mason University. "They have never led."

Indeed, none has ever had the opportunity to do so. It's been 40 years since the Republicans last controlled the House.

The change is going to be dazzling.

The Republicans can't wait. As he stood before a throng at the Westin Hotel in Costa Mesa on Tuesday night, Republican Rep. Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove tantalized the crowd. After years on the minority side, Dornan is in line to become a Armed Services subcommittee chairman.

"Chairman . . . Dornan," he said as if trying on the title for size. Then he produced a wooden gavel, pounded it exuberantly on the lectern and shouted to the back of the room: "Liberal Democrats! You shut your mouth!"

The list of new committee assignments includes:

* On the powerful House subcommittee on health and the environment, Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), who has waged war on the tobacco industry and was getting close to banning smoking in public places, is likely to be replaced by Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. Bliley's Richmond, Va., district is the home of Philip Morris Tobacco Co., and he is one the industry's finest champions in Congress.

* On the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep Bill Archer (R-Tex.) would represent "a major, major, major move to the right," said Joe White, a senior policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. Archer is committed to reducing broad capital gains taxes.

* Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), the controversial but respected heir-apparent of the House Judiciary Committee chairmanship, is likely to try to spearhead a federal version of California's anti-illegal-immigrant Proposition 187, several congressional analysts said.

One outstanding question in the shuffling is how much control Gingrich will exert. Many observers anticipate a tense battle for the House agenda between Gingrich and his new Republicans and the older, somewhat more moderate Republicans who would take over the committees if seniority were the determining factor.

Gingrich has made it clear that he wants to return to the era of centralized power, rather than continuing the current practice of allowing decisions to flow from the committee chairs.

"Good luck," said James A. Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential studies at American University. "I don't think anyone could do that in these days."

Still, "his operating style is very coordinated," said Rick Shapiro, director of the Congressional Management Foundation, a consulting group that trains congressional staff. "He will appoint very few chairmen who will go off and be moderate."

On Wednesday, Gingrich told reporters that he intends to bypass the seniority system in choosing committee chairs.

Among the rumored possibilities:

* Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) might ordinarily be in line to assume the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee from Rep. John S. Dingell (D-Mich.) Some of Gingrich's aides, however, consider Moorhead too moderate and suggest that he would meet with strong opposition.

* On the Rules Committee, 64-year-old Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.) would be line to head a panel that can be important in assembling the Speaker's power because it controls many of the levers and switches of the House. But Solomon staged a brief challenge to Gingrich for the Republican whip's job two years ago. "And Gingrich's people think he's too moderate, not a true believer," said a consultant employed by the Senate.

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