Jesse Helms And Les Aspin

And the stress on seniority

So sacrosanct is the congressional seniority system that the late Carl Hayden, an Arizona Democrat, ruled the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee into his 90s. The current chairman, Mississippi's John Stennis, is 85. The oldest House member, Claude Pepper of Florida, 86, chairs the Rules Committee. "There's something wrong with a system that keeps you from the top job until you're in your 70s," muses Florida Democrat Charles Bennett, 76. "But nobody can come up with anything better."

In choosing North Carolina's fire-breathing conservative Jesse Helms as ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee last week, G.O.P. Senators seemed to agree. At...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!