San Diego Union-Tribune

Jan. 5, 2001 


Californian Thomas gets key House post
He'll be chairman of Ways and Means 


WASHINGTON -- California's legislative clout increased substantially yesterday with the selection of Republican Rep. Bill Thomas as chairman of the powerful tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Thomas, a 22-year Congressional veteran from Bakersfield, won a high-stakes contest with Rep. Phil Crane, R-Ill., a lawmaker with 32 years of House service. The post became open with the retirement of the previous chairman,
Bill Archer, R-Texas.

"That's great news for California. We've never had a Ways and Means chairman," said Tim Ransdell, director of the California Institute for Federal Policy Research. "Thomas will be in a position to look out for the interests of California's key industries and taxpayers and for Social
Security and Medicare recipients."

The committee should be even more influential this year because of President-elect Bush's commitment to sweeping tax cuts and to bolstering Social Security and Medicare.

Thomas, 59, chaired the Ways and Means subcommittee on health in the last session and made a vigorous but ultimately unsuccessful attempt at enacting Medicare reform.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., disappointed Crane by supporting Thomas.

"We put the best team on the field. Bill Thomas has shown an extraordinary ability to get things done," particularly on health care issues, said Hastert spokesman John Feehery.

Thomas' selection was one of the most controversial among the decisions by the House Republican Conference, which selected the committee chairmen for the new session of Congress. An unusual number of committees had vacant
chairs because of retirements and a GOP-imposed six-year term limit on chairmen.

Another touchy issue was the attempt by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., to keep the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, a post that put him in the high-profile position of leading the House managers during the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton last year.

Hyde was due to give up the chair because of the term limits, but he had lobbied Hastert to grant him a waiver.

Instead, the Judiciary post went to Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who was next in line, and Hyde was given the chair of International Relations.

The Republicans also denied the bid by Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., to become the first woman to chair a major committee. Even though Roukema was
the senior eligible Republican on the Banking Committee, the chair of a revised panel, called Financial Services, went to Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., took the chair of the Commerce Committee, which lost some of its issues to Oxley's panel.

In one of the most unusual contests, Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., beat back a challenge by a relatively junior Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., to take over Armed Services. Rep. Floyd Spence, R-S.C., was pushed out by term limits.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, who was second in seniority to Stump and supported him, likely will retain his chairmanship of the panel's procurement subcommittee.

Most of the other selections had been expected.

Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, won a three-way contest for chair of the Budget Committee, which sets congressional spending guidelines.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, was picked to chair the Education Committee, which should be a high-profile appointment given the intense focus by Bush
and the Democrats on improving public education.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, took over the Transportation Committee after he was forced out of the Resources Committee chair, which went to Rep. James
Hansen, R-Utah, a strong opponent of federal land use takeover.

Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., will chair Small Business.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-Wis., will move up to lead the Science Committee.

Rep. David Dreier, R-San Dimas, retained his chairmanship of the House Rules Committee, an influential panel that controls the flow of legislation and the policies that govern the House.