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Senator Jim Jeffords Leaves Republican Party

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05/25/2001

Senator Jim Jeffords Leaves Republican Party

Date: 5/25/2001
News: Senator Jim Jeffords to leave Republican Party
Senate Control to Move to Democrats

Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords announced on May 24 that he would leave the Republican Party to become an Independent and caucus with the Democrats for the purpose of organization. He said that the change will become effective when the Conference Report on the tax bill was sent to the President, which is expected late this week or early next week. The decision of Senator Jeffords means that control of the Senate will belong to Democrats.

The Majority Leader of the Senate will become Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Committee Chairs will change from Republicans to Democrats. Specifically, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman will become Max Baucus (D-MT). The Appropriations Committee Chairman will become Robert Byrd (D-VA) and the Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (Labor H) will become Tom Harkin (D-IA). The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Senator Jeffords, will be chaired by Edward Kennedy (D-MA). News reports indicate that Senator Jeffords will become Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, appointed by the Democrats.

It is important to keep in mind that while this changes the leadership and control of Senate Committees, it does not change the philosophical make-up of the Senate. Moderates in the Senate - both Republican and Democrat - will continue to wield the balance of power. Majority Leader Daschle will encounter the same difficulties putting together “filibuster proof” majorities that Senator Lott has encountered in the past. Other than legislation coming to the floor under the certain procedural protections, such as budget reconciliation, virtually any Senate bill is subject to a filibuster.

The organizational significance of the Jeffords switch cannot be overlooked. The Democrat Committee Chairmen, in addition to having different philosophical outlooks, will now control the flow of the legislative process by controlling the agenda. However, unlike the House which operates under very strict rules, the Senate process allows the minority to have great influence on the legislative process.

Perhaps the biggest impact of the Jeffords switch will be felt during the House/Senate Conference Committee process where Democrats will clearly have more influence. The Conference is the legislative body convened by the House and Senate to iron out differences in the respective versions of similar legislation passed by the House and Senate. While the minority nominally has a seat at the conference table, minority support is not required to report a bill out of conference. Consequently, minority or dissenting opinions are often ignored by the majority. Now, Democrat support will be required to report a bill out of conference.

Finally, this change will not only affect the substance of legislation, but in the near-term, it will affect the pace of the legislative process. The process of adjusting to majority/minority status will slow down the legislative process while things get sorted out. For example, Senator Daschle has indicated that he will appoint an additional Democrat to every Committee. It is not clear how quickly the Democrat caucus will move to fill these new vacancies but that alone will take some time to shake out.

We will keep you informed of the latest developments. In the meantime, please contact us with questions or comments.

Source: Bill Finerfrock/Matt Williams