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Armed Services, Finance Seats Snagged

The shift in power in the Senate has given Republicans a wealth of new committee slots and will lead to a large amount of turnover on the most coveted panels when the GOP leadership makes its final Steering decisions today.

Of the four exclusive, or “Super A,” committees — Appropriations, Armed Services, Finance and Foreign Relations — the largest turnover will be on Armed Services, a panel that is growing in stature and attractiveness as the United States wages the war on terrorism and contemplates going to war with Iraq.

Six Republicans will be joining the Armed Services panel — Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) and newly elected Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), John Cornyn (Texas), Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Jim Talent (Mo.).

The committee will include more newly elected GOP Senators in the 108th Congress than it has in several years. Only one GOP freshman joined the panel in the 105th Congress, while no newly elected Republicans were added at the start of the 106th or 107th Congresses.

While Armed Services will likely get a boost in stature because of the current climate, the Finance Committee remains the most coveted panel.

Four GOP Finance slots are open, with the addition of a new seat and the departure of Sens. Phil Gramm (Texas), Frank Murkowski (Alaska) and Fred Thompson (Tenn.). Those seats will be taken by Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.), Sen. Jim Bunning (Ky.) and Sen. Gordon Smith (Ore.).

With his expertise on Medicare and other health-care issues, Frist’s interest in the Finance post predates his elevation to Majority Leader. By taking the position, he is following in the footsteps of his predecessor as GOP leader, Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.), and Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), both of whom sit on Finance.

Santorum and Bunning will be giving up spots on Armed Services to join Finance. Santorum has already passed on an opportunity to chair the Rules and Administration Committee, paving the way for Lott to take that gavel.

Smith will try to get a waiver that would allow him to remain on Foreign Relations; otherwise, he will give up that post for the one on Finance.

Two Republicans, Sens. Wayne Allard (Colo.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.), have chosen to remain on Armed Services rather than move to Finance.

The Appropriations Committee roster will be relatively stable. No Republicans are leaving the panel, and the one new GOP slot will be taken by Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.).

Like Smith, Brownback will also try to secure a waiver in order to remain on Foreign Relations. He will likely give up his spot on the Judiciary Committee.

There will be at least two Republican openings on Foreign Relations — the new seat and the one left by retired Sen. Jesse Helms (N.C.). Two more slots could open up depending on whether Smith and Brownback are granted their waivers.

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