The votes are not all tallied from the Nov. 5, 2002, elections – an historic milestone since, not since President Teddy Roosevelt has a Republican President gained seats in both the Senate and House in an off-year election. And there are vastly different ideas about whether the lame-duck session of Congress will feature a shift to the Republicans in the Senate, with accompanying Committee changes, or whether Democrats will hold on to what will only be ceremonial levers of power. No one even knows if the lame-duck session will be brief or long.
What is rather certain is that come 2003, there will be some significant changes in Congressional Committees and Subcommittees that will impact programs such as adoption, foster care, the Hague Convention, humanitarian assistance for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, Safe Haven laws, and bioethical issues.
House of Representatives
On the House side, the major change is that Tom DeLay (R-TX) will have even more power as Majority Leader. The only other change is that Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims of the Committee on the Judiciary will need a new Chair since Rep. Gekas (R-PA) lost his re-election bid. If seniority rules are followed, the new Chair will be Darrell Issa, just elected to his second term from California. This Subcommittee will have power to influence what happens with reorganization and functioning of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), as well as the way INS will work with the U.S. Department of State in implementing the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.
The Senate situation is more complex. Two Subcommittees of the Committee on Appropriations will see shifts. Sen. Specter (R-PA) will return to the Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee. Specter’s Subcommittee has very wide powers, not just the bioethical issues like stem cell research and embryo adoption, where Specter’s interests have been obvious. Sen. McConnell (R-KY), who would serve as Chair of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, is rumored to be slated for a leadership role for Senate Republicans. Such a post could mean that he would pass on being Chair, setting in motion revolving seats among several Subcommittees.
Similar questions about leadership responsibilities could also impact the Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy of the Committee on Finance. Sen. Kyl (R-AZ) would normally become Chair, but he is rumored for a post in leadership. So also is Sen. Nickles (R-OK), making it possible that Sen. Thomas (R-WY) could become the Chair if others with more seniority waive their rights to be Chair.
The most significant change, arguably, will come in the Committee on Foreign Relations with the retirement of Sen. Helms (R-NC), who would otherwise be Chair. His retirement puts Sen. Lugar (R-IN), in the position of having to decide whether he wishes to Chair Foreign Relations or stay as Chair of Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Indiana is a state where farm issues are critically important, but Lugar has long had an interest in Foreign Relations. If Lugar waives on Foreign Relations, the Chair, by strict seniority on the present Republican line-up, could go to Sen. Hagel (R-NE), who just won re-election to his second term. On the other hand, negotiations could result in Sen. Frist (R-TN), a person with keen interest in AIDS-related issues, becoming Chair. What is not uncertain is that Sen. Brownback can reclaim the Chair of the Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Subcommittee. And Brownback, an adoptive parent, is keenly interested in all these topics.
With Brownback as Chair of a Foreign Relations Subcommittee, he is also likely to resume his post as Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary, so in a sense Brownback could influence both the U.S. Department of State and INS in a uniquely powerful way.
However the musical chairs settle out in the Senate and House of Representatives, it seems clear that most of the legislation that was passed by the House during the last two years, and which has been hung up in the Senate or reported out in a way that the House would not accept, will be reintroduced, passed by the House and sent to a Republican-controlled Senate. There should be many interesting debates and votes in the next two years, not just on issues like making the income tax deduction for adoptive families permanent, or confirming judges nominated by President Bush, but on all of the topics that are of concern to those who care about children and families.
More election commentary from Bill Pierce: “Except for Landrieu, Adoption is Winning Issue in Election”
William L. Pierce, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute. Pierce is also the Executive Director of the U.S. Committee for the International Association of Voluntary Adoption Agencies & NGOs (IAVAAN), the Publisher and Executive Editor of Adoption/Medical News, and was the Founding President & CEO of The National Council For Adoption. Pierce writes from Washington, D.C.