Voters get an allergy to bacon

Sitting on Congress' appropriations committees is no longer a ticket to tenure.
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U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair.

Sitting on Congress' appropriations committees is no longer a ticket to tenure.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, from which Sen. Warren Magnuson enriched Washington state at the peak of his power in the 1970s, is suddenly a hot seat, at least for Republicans. As The Washington Post reports, six GOP barons are about to depart the committee, assuming Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska fails to survive. Those who have retired from the Senate and the committee are: Kit Bond of Missouri, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Robert Bennett of Utah was toppled in the Republican primary.

Democrats are also leaving the committee, with Arlen Specter defeated in Pennsylvania's primary, Bryon Dorgan of North Dakota retiring, and Robert Byrd of West Virginia dying earlier this year. On the endangered list is Patty Murray of Washington.

The House counterpart is also registering casualties. Dave Obey of Wisconsin, the chair of House Appropriations, is retiring, and the longtime power, John Murtha of Pennsylvania, has died, leaving the way clear for our very own Norm Dicks to assume the chairmanship. Just below Dicks in seniority on the 60-member committee is Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, who lost in his primary. No chance of Dicks being defeated in his Tacoma-Bremerton district, but of course the Democrats could lose control of the House. That would still leave a very powerful Dicks, one schooled in earlier Congressional eras of bipartisanship and divided government. Jerry Lewis of California would likely be the new chair if the GOP takes command.

Washington state has long been comfortable with all the bacon coming from Congress members who attain seniority and high positions on the "money committees." That leaves Dino Rossi with the tricky task of both convincing voters that he will "fight for Washington state," as the euphemism would phrase it, and also oppose nasty things like earmarks and Senatorial longevity and free-spending. In the midst of a recession, it's even harder to say you'll go back to D.C. and turn off the spigots.

When those spigots were really flowing to this state, amid Cold War spending to build up defense and research, Washington benefitted by having two powerful senior senators, Magnuson and Henry Jackson. Oregon, whose senators were more mavericks, fell behind. Maggie was defeated by Slade Gorton in 1980, largely on an age issue, and Scoop died in 1982, to be replaced by Dan Evans. Another powerful state figure, former House Speaker Tom Foley, lost in the Republican surge of 1994. By now, however, the state has rebounded and has two powerful counterparts to the Scoop-Maggie era: Murray in the Senate (sixth-ranking Democrat on Appropriations) and Dicks in the House. Too bad the government is broke!


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