Leadership lineup

"Leadership lineup" Continued...

Issue: "Kids' books," Dec. 2, 2006

Ways and Means: New York Rep. Charles Rangel claims he will not roll back the Bush tax cuts before they expire in 2010. He has further irked Democrats with calls to reinstate the military draft, though he intends it as an anti-war measure to ensure politicians' friends and family members are among the ranks.

Senate committee chairmen

Appropriations: As a two-time former chair of the committee, Robert Byrd earned a reputation as the king of pork-barrel spending. Now 89 years old, the West Virginia senator promises more of the same and a partial repeal of the Bush tax cuts to help pay for it.

Armed Services: A harsh critic of the Iraq War, Michigan's senior Sen. Carl Levin didn't take long after his committee appointment to demand the beginning of phased Iraq troop withdrawal within four to six months.

Finance: With a history of bucking his party, Montana Sen. Max Baucus has many liberals worried he may avoid legislation to limit increases in oil prices. But the fiscal moderate remains as committed as ever to blocking Social Security reform.

Foreign Relations: A possible presidential candidate in 2008, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden has shunned anti-war screeds in favor of generalities about the need to develop an exit strategy. His centrist positions, including a recent vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, present a genuine opportunity for bipartisanship.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Democrat Joseph Lieberman, elected as an independent in Connecticut, has maddened party leaders with his unwavering support of the Iraq War. But he continues to side with Democrats on social issues.

Judiciary: Republicans accused Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy of holding up judicial appointments as chair of the committee in 2001. More recently, he voted against the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito after berating the nominee during the hearings.

Raising the bar

In a dramatic turnaround from the 2004 presidential election, many so-called values voters swung for Democrats in the recent midterms as the party of high ethical standards-at least higher than Republicans. Having encouraged that defection with promises of sweeping reform, Democrats now stand divided on just how far new rules should go.

Much of the party leadership supports measures to restrict the power and influence of lobbyists, such as a ban on giving gifts, meals, or travel to members of Congress and a requirement for full disclosure of all contacts with lawmakers. General support also exists for blocking lobbyists from entering the floor of either congressional chamber.

But considerable controversy exists over whether to place new restrictions on earmark spending or campaign financing and over how to police any such ethical upgrades. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a likely presidential candidate, has proposed establishing an independent ethics commission to enforce strict standards. Obama considers such action necessary to avoid alienating the voters who handed Democrats both houses of Congress.

California Sen. Diane Feinstein disagrees, arguing that "clear and precise" laws would suffice to clean up Capitol Hill. As the incoming chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, she may have the pull to block Obama's plan for new federal bureaucracy. A considerable number of Democratic lawmakers stand with Feinstein, many believing that Washington's recent ethical shortcomings stemmed simply from entrenched Republican control.

Democrats are similarly divided over how aggressively they should move to plug loopholes for 527 groups in the much-debated campaign-finance law known as McCain-Feingold. Far less discord surrounds new proposals to restrict earmark spending. Many House Democrats support blocking earmarks that would benefit an organization with a legislator's family member or former staff member among its employees. Senate Democrats are behind a measure requiring disclosure of any lawmaker responsible for earmarked funds paid directly to persons outside the federal government.


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