House vote makes Homeland Security panel permanent

The House voted Tuesday to create a new permanent Homeland Security Committee, taking valuable turf away from a few powerful committee chairmen and implementing the most sweeping jurisdictional changes in decades.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., "took a real risk here taking on some of these chairmen," said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., referring to the deal Hastert brokered between such committee chairmen as Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young R-Alaska, Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas. Weldon added that Rules Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., "took some heat too."

The House approved the Rules Committee package by a 220-195 vote.

Hastert's office worked with Young, Sensenbrenner, Barton and Homeland Security Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., over the holiday break to garner a compromise that would create a permanent standing panel with primary jurisdiction over homeland security policy.

But some lawmakers remained concerned Tuesday the rules package for the 109th Congress would only slightly ease the challenges faced by the temporary Homeland Security panel over the last two years.

Democratic lawmakers also noted the changes failed to meet the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which called for one House and one Senate committee with sole jurisdiction over homeland security issues.

"There are still 88 committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over homeland security," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. "Homeland security oversight is still a confusing mess."

Weldon said the changes to House rules were adequate, but argued "legislative history" language that was added to pacify other committee chairmen would complicate the process for referring legislation to House committees. "[GOP leaders] don't want to usurp other committees," he said.

Under legislative history language, other committee chairmen would be able to require legislation crafted by the Homeland Security Committee to pass through their panels before a vote on the House floor.

In the last Congress Cox attempted, but failed, to bring the Homeland Security Department's first authorization measure to the House floor.

But Cox, who is expected to continue as the panel's chairman, said Tuesday the chairmen's ability to kidnap any legislation would be diminished under the new House rules.

Cox said the changes give the committee primary authority on homeland security policy "across the board" and referrals would limit the time other committees can hold on to the legislation without taking action.

"We've taken a giant step forward in rationalizing the jurisdiction of the House," he said. Cox added that he would recommend to the Republican Steering Committee today that GOP leaders shrink the size of the Homeland Security Committee from 50 members to 25-30 members.

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