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Published: Sunday, 1/14/2001

Cash, not longevity, counts

Republicans in the U.S. House deserve credit for making good on one of the selling points in their political takeover after the 1994 elections. They pledged to automatically shuffle committee chairmanships every six years to prevent perpetuation of political fiefdoms that stifled Congress under the rigid seniority system. Now they've done it, and that's commendable.

Rep. Michael G. Oxley of Findlay is one of the beneficiaries of this move. He's now chairman of the new Financial Services Committee, a remodeled version of the old Banking Committee. Similarly, Ohio's political clout was increased with the elevation of Rep. John Boehner, of West Chester, to head the Education and Workforce Committee.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert boasted that the committee changes demonstrate that Republicans have “proved to be a party not afraid to take a chance on new faces, new ideas.” Never mind that the new chairmen include no women or minorities.

Actually, Mr. Oxley's route to a chairmanship serves to illustrate how cold, hard campaign cash now counts for more than merely outlasting party rivals in a battle of longevity.

He and Rep. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, two of the House's most prodigious political fund-raisers, were competing for chairmanship of the Commerce Committee. Mr. Oxley has more seniority, but Mr. Tauzin gave $590,000 of his campaign cash to fellow Republicans last fall, compared with $420,000 given by Mr. Oxley. Mr. Tauzin was rewarded with chairmanship of the newly configured Energy and Commerce Committee, while Mr. Oxley gets to head the Financial Services panel, which combines some jurisdiction from Commerce, plus all of the issues under the old Banking Committee: banks, savings and loans, insurance companies, and Wall Street.

Mr. Oxley should find rich fund-raising opportunities in his new post, but not all of those affected were pleased. Rep. Bud Shuster, Pennsylvania's “Mr. Asphalt,” was so distraught at losing the chairmanship of the powerful Transportation Committee that he quit. Of course, it didn't help that Mr. Shuster had been mired in a four-year influence-peddling investigation involving his long-time aide, Ann Eppard, a transportation lobbyist, or that the congressman, who is married, was captured on tape by CBS News emerging from Ms. Eppard's home about 5 a.m.

Mr. Shuster's political demise may not have been what GOP leaders had in mind by shaking up the committee leadership, but it certainly won't hurt the reputation of Congress, which can use the boost.

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