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Where Moakley sits, void is seen
Mass. facing test without his clout
By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff, 02/14/01
The members erupted in laughter, yet the state's long-held seat on the powerful committee, which is known as "the traffic cop of the House," will be at risk when Moakley leaves Congress.
Testimony to how Moakley has used his seat, and what his 28 years of seniority has meant to the state, was evident yesterday in a bill filed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative James P. McGovern, of Worcester. It would name the Fan Pier federal courthouse, which Moakley promoted in Congress, in his honor.
Moakley's other legislative accomplishments include the cleanup of Boston Harbor and the Central Artery project. In his own neighborhood of South Boston, the congressman is known for helping retirees regain lost Social Security checks.
"When the chips are down, Joe Moakley is always there when we need him most," Kennedy said. "If President Kennedy were here today, we all know what he'd say: He'd call Joe Moakley a true `Profile in Courage.' "
McGovern, who worked for 13 years as Moakley's aide before being elected to Congress in 1996, said: "There's not been a federal project in Massachusetts that hasn't had his fingerprints on it."
The House and Senate were expected to approve the bill as early as today. That would amount to supersonic passage for any piece of legislation, but especially for one naming a landmark. Usually, such bills are not introduced until five years after a public figure dies. It can then take months for them to clear the House and Senate.
Members of the Massachusetts delegation are respectful of Moakley's continued presence, but they must also contemplate the void created by his departure. Most are looking for leadership to the state's next most senior House member, Representative Edward J. Markey of Malden, and the state's lone member on the House Ways and Means Committee, Representative Richard E. Neal of Springfield.
They also take comfort in knowing Massachusetts retains the ultimate backstop: Kennedy's influence in the Senate and the White House as well.
"The lifting just got heavier for everybody," Neal said hours after the Ways and Means Committee held its first hearing on President Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut proposal.
"What people may have left to Joe they will now have to pick up and work through their committees," said Senator John F. Kerry, who with Kennedy represents the state in the Senate. Ten representatives, all Democrats like the senators, serve it in the House.
"It's a challenge, but it's a challenge that can be met," Kerry said, echoing Neal's comments. "Eddie Markey has enormous seniority in the House. You've got Richie Neal moving up on the Ways and Means Committee." William "Delahunt's a very effective inside player. Barney Frank has a lot of clout. Overall, it's a very effective delegation."
The state has held a seat on the Rules Committee since 1954, when then-House majority leader John McCormack of Massachusetts arranged for future Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. of Cambridge to join the panel. Moakley was elected to Congress in 1972, and O'Neill bequeathed the seat to him in just his second term.
The seat's importance is this: Members can file a bill, groups can testify on its behalf, and the public may support it, but it will almost never reach the floor of the House of Representatives without the approval of the Rules Committee.
Membership is determined by the House speaker and minority leader, and Republicans currently hold a 9-4 advantage. Tradition would call for a Massachusetts member to take Moakley's place, but it could be an uphill fight with Republicans in the House majority and without a patron like McCormack or O'Neill overseeing the process.
Moakley was the committee's chairman from 1989 until the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994.
Massachusetts already has lost considerable influence in the House. Besides Speakers McCormack and O'Neill, it at one time had three members on the influential Appropriations Committee and two on the Commerce Committee. Today it has a lone member on Appropriations, Representative John W. Olver of Amherst, and one on Commerce, Markey.
Markey said the state can exercise its remaining leverage because of the good working relationships within the delegation.
"We pool our political strategy to achieve the common goals that we all share for Massachusetts," the Malden Democrat said.
Markey predicts that Democrats will regain control of the House in 2002, flipping the balance on the Rules Committee and making it easier to preserve the Massachusetts seat. If that does not happen, Markey said, "We are still placed like the 1927 Yankees.
There's no question that one of the great benefits of having John McCormack, Tip O'Neill, and Joe Moakley is that each of us is in position on one of the most important committees in Congress."
epresentative J. Joseph Moakley returned to the Capitol yesterday and the House Rules Committee seat that has seemingly been a birthright of the Massachusetts delegation, his battle with leukemia casting a shadow not only on his life, but also on the state's political clout.
The committee's Republican chairman, Representative David Dreier of California, welcomed Moakley with a bunch of green bananas, an affectionate rejoinder to Moakley's quip that he might not have the longevity to enjoy them.
epresentative J. Joseph Moakley returned to the Capitol yesterday and the House Rules Committee seat that has seemingly been a birthright of the Massachusetts delegation, his battle with leukemia casting a shadow not only on his life, but also on the state's political clout. The committee's Republican chairman, Representative David Dreier of California, welcomed Moakley with a bunch of green bananas, an affectionate rejoinder to Moakley's quip that he might not have the longevity to enjoy them."If I could trade it in for the gavel, I'd be very happy," the South Boston Democrat replied.
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