Friday, after weeks of behind-the-scenes wrangling, the United States Senate's temporary majority leader, South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle, and interim minority leader, Mississippi Republican Trent Lott, announced they had reached a power-sharing agreement designed to balance control in the evenly split chamber and the Senate approved the pact in a voice vote the same day. Meanwhile, across the way, House Republicans were adjusting to another kind of power-sharing within their own party.
Under the new Senate deal, committees, where the real legislative business is taken care of, will be populated by an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. The GOP will maintain the committee chairs, a nod to the fact that technically they will have a 51-50 advantage after Dick Cheney is sworn in as vice president on January 20. In the case of a death or resignation that alters the 50-50 balance, Lott and Daschle will reexamine the power-sharing scheme.
Appearing before the press Friday afternoon, Daschle called the plan "if not miraculous, then at the very least historic." Lott was less enthusiastic, but agreed the deal "is a reasonable one, with a serious dose of reality." That may be reference to the shell shock Senate observers reportedly saw on Republicans' faces earlier this week when the words "majority leader" publicly preceded Daschle's name for the first time.
On the other side of the Capitol, a quiet revolution was under way in the House of Representatives, where GOP leaders were giving up their committee chairs. The shakeup marks a stark departure from years of tradition for as long as the modern House has existed, representatives in the controlling party have bided their time, inching up the leadership ladder toward their ultimate reward: A committee chairmanship.
In 1994, however, the new GOP majority implemented a six-year term limit for committee chairmen. And what seemed like a good idea six long years ago is raising ire among some senior party members. Henry Hyde, Republican of Illinois, only grudgingly departed as chairman of the House Ways and Means committee and moved to the head of the foreign relations panel. Hyde argued unsuccessfully that he should remain in his leadership position to make up for time he missed during President Clinton's impeachment trial.