House Science Chairman Walker to Retire

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Publication date: 
18 December 1995

Last Friday afternoon, House Science Committee Chairman Bob Walker
(R-PA) announced his intention to retire at the end of this
Congress (one year from now.)  In making this surprise
announcement, Walker said, "It is time for me to step aside and
allow someone else to take on the challenge of serving this
district in the Congress.  Since the first Continental Congress 220
years ago, the Pennsylvania Dutch seat has established a proud
tradition.  A part of that tradition is that no one has ever held
the seat for more than twenty years."  He later added, "In case
there's any rumor, I'm in excellent political and physical health."

Walker has enjoyed great support at the polls since he was elected
to Congress in 1976.  In that election, and every election since
then, he has won with at least 62% of the vote -- and often more
than that.

Until Republicans took control of Congress this year, Walker was
most often identified as one of the G.O.P.'s primary tacticians on
the House floor.  He repeatedly, and vigorously, spoke out against
the Democrat's approach to passing legislation.  Speaker Newt
Gingrich (R-GA) calls Walker his "closest personal friend in the

Since Walker became chairman of the House Science Committee this
year, it has changed in both temperament and approach.  The
committee's friendly and bipartisan atmosphere has waxed and waned,
with the level of tension between Republicans and Democrats
sometimes reaching the breaking point.  This was especially evident
in late June, when the full committee marked up the Department of
Energy Civilian R&D Authorization Act.  Walker's decision on the
timing of a committee roll call vote during a House floor vote
caused an uproar, as did his later actions against a committee
Democrat who attempted to shift funding.  The committee, after this
dispute spilled over to the House floor, seems to have mellowed
(see FYI #86.)

Walker has made the committee much more relevant to the over-all
legislative process.  His committee has successfully pushed omnibus
legislation through the House to authorize science and technology
programs under the committee's jurisdiction (see FYIs #137-140,
143, 144, 150, 151.)  Although criticisms have been leveled at the
manner in which this was done, the fact remains that the House
Science Committee has a much stronger voice in the process.

One area in which Walker has not been as successful has been
combining various science and technology departments and agencies
into a single Department of Science.  Although he has supported
such legislation in the past, and tried to advance it in this
Congress, his idea was not adopted this year -- in fact, no
hearings have been held on it.  With his decision to retire next
year, some of the impetus behind this proposal will diminish.

So who might become chairman of the House Science Committee in
1997?  IF top-ranking committee Republicans and Democrats all
return to the 105th Congress, and IF the 105th leadership does not
ignore seniority (as it did this year), the committee's highest
Ranking Republicans who could move into this seat are, in order of
seniority:  Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (WI), Sherwood Boehlert (NY),
Harris Fawell (IL), and Constance Morella (MD).  Sensenbrenner and
Morella are currently subcommittee chairs, as are Steven Schiff
(NM) and Dana Rohrabacher (CA).  The committee's four
highest-ranking Democrats are George Brown (CA) (who would
certainly regain the chairmanship if the Democrats control the
House), Ralph Hall (TX), James Traficant (OH), and John Tanner

Walker will still be in firm control of the House Science Committee
next year, setting the committee's agenda, schedule, and
legislation.  But his power and influence will diminish, by as yet
an unknown degree.