Turf-conscious senators resist expansion of Governmental Affairs

Powerful committee chairman defeat attempts to transfer some of their oversight and appropriations duties to retooled panel.

The Senate spent much of Thursday cannibalizing a historic committee reorganization proposal, removing whole law enforcement agencies from the purview of a new Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee despite efforts by Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with GOP and Democratic leaders to beat back amendments.

Senate leaders late Thursday night remained adamant that the bill would be completed. But as the stand-off between Collins and the Senate's old guard ground on, it was clear the tide had turned against Collins as veteran chairmen picked off pieces of the bill one at a time, weakening the reforms and prompting some speculation the bill could be pulled altogether.

The only two amendments defeated during the day's debate would have strengthened the control of the retooled Governmental Affairs Committee by giving it appropriations powers, while the only affirmative roll call vote as of Thursday evening further limited the resolution's changes.

The reorganization as drafted by Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Whip Harry Reid, R-Nev., would have originally shifted oversight and policy authority from as many as nine committees into the Governmental Affairs Committee, which under the plan would be renamed the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The Reid-McConnell plan clearly ruffled feathers among a number of powerful senators, most of whom used Thursday's debate to attempt to protect their turf.

For instance, Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Max Baucus, D-Mont., successfully wrested back oversight of customs operations, and Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., removed by voice vote a provision shifting immigration issues out of the Judiciary Committee.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also forced a vote to protect their control over the Secret Service, winning by a 54-41 margin.

Earlier in the day, the Senate rejected efforts by several members to include even more sweeping changes.

Lawmakers beat back two attempts by Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., to hand the Intelligence and newly retooled Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees control over federal homeland security and intelligence spending.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Trent Lott, R-Miss., was also a strong proponent of merging authorizing and spending duties into the two committees, arguing that maintaining the traditional split between the two functions would undermine the reforms.

The McCain proposal was opposed by the reorganization plan's authors McConnell and Reid -- both of whom are members of the Appropriations Committee, as well as Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.