With Republicans in control of the gavel in both chambers of Congress for the first time in decades, a combination of familiar faces and new personalities are emerging as powerbrokers on issues of concern to the Jewish community.
The following is a list of some of the key committee chairs who will be shaping policy on issues from foreign aid to welfare reform: Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), a staunch supporter of Israel in recent years but an outspoken opponent of foreign aid to other nations, will serve a chairman of the Senate International Relations Committee, formerly called the Foreign Relations Committee. Helms has called the Middle East peace process a “fraud.” Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), one of 33 Jews in the new Congress, will be Helms’ counterpart in the House. Gilman has strong pro-Israel ties and has consistently championed the cause of aid to Israel. In an effort to ensure his leadership over Middle East policy in the new House, Gilman dissolved the Middle East and Europe Subcommittee. Under new Republican rules, Gilman, as chair of the House International Relations Committee, would not have been able to chair the subcommittee as well. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will chair the Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for writing the actual foreign aid spending bill. McConnell’s proposal to drastically reduce foreign aid, which he unveiled last month, leaves aid to the Middle East intact. Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), will serve as McConnell’s counterpart as chairman of the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. Callahan, who has never voted in favor of a foreign aid bill, could pose problems for foreign assistance. But advocates here remain optimistic in light of statements by Callahan’s aide that as Chairman he will now “take a hard look at changing his position” on foreign aid. Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo,) will rise to head the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugees, a move that many Jewish leaders fear will lead to a cut in the number of immigrants and refugees allowed into the United States each year. Simpson for years has advocated cutting the numbers of refugees from the former Soviet Union.
On the domestic front, the rise of many conservative lawmakers has many in the Jewish community who champion liberal causes worried. Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) will head the House Ways and Means committee responsible for welfare reform. Shaw will spearhead GOP proposals to end the entitlement status for welfare programs, which enables anyone who meets eligibility requirements to receive benefits. Under Republican proposals, these programs would be subject to the annual appropriations process. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.) will chair the Labor and Human Resources Committee. She will oversee debates on welfare reform in the Senate. More moderate than her House counterparts, Kassebaum has expressed reservations about many aspects of the House proposals, including those that would cut off aid to children on welfare. Jim Istook (R-Okla.) has been tapped as the unofficial school prayer kingpin for the 104th Congress. Moderate Republicans are increasing the pressure on the new House Speaker, Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), to shelve the school prayer debate until next year. But Istook has vowed to press ahead for a vote on a constitutional amendment in the House by July 4.
On the question of a balanced budget amendment, Gingrich and other Republican Party leaders will spearhead the effort. The full House is expected to debate a balanced budget amendment as early as this month.