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Alexander's Bind

When former Secretary of Education and now incoming Sen. Lamar Alexander takes his seat this week in the 108th Congress, he probably won't also find a seat waiting for him on the Senate panel that deals with education.

Lamar Alexander

You heard that right: The top dog on education during the first President Bush's administration most likely won't serve on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. That's because Sen. Bill Frist, also a Republican from Tennessee, already sits on that panel.

While there's no Senate rule prohibiting two senators from the same state and party from serving on the same committee, both the Republican and Democratic conferences strongly discourage it, said assistant Senate historian Betty K. Koed.

"Usually the caucuses like to not have two from the same state and party on there because it becomes a competitive situation," she said.

Mr. Alexander's spokesman, Kevin Phillips, said his boss isn't anticipating finding a chair at that table. "Our expectation is that we won't get on Education," Mr. Phillips said. "But we're still hopeful."

Mr. Alexander has heard he'll be serving on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and has expressed interest in number of other Senate panels, including the coveted Appropriations Committee. Final committee assignments will be announced later this month.

Sen. Frist, the physician who is taking over as the new Senate majority leader, has no plans to give up his seat on the health and education committee, said his spokesman, Nick Smith. One of Sen. Frist's priorities is to pass a law providing federal funding for drug prescriptions, and the committee will get the first look at such legislation.

That most likely leaves Mr. Alexander outside looking in. However, exceptions to the tradition have been allowed, Ms. Koed said. During the 107th Congress, for example, Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both Mississippi Republicans, sat on the Rules Committee, she said.

Mr. Phillips said he didn't know whether Mr. Alexander planned to ask for a special exception.

"Regardless, he will stay involved in education policy," Mr. Phillips said. "It's just a quirk of the Senate."

—Michelle R. Davis

Vol. 22, Issue 16, Page 20

Published in Print: January 8, 2003, as Federal File

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