Senate banking post for Sarbanes

November 09, 1993

For the first time in more than 40 years, Maryland is in line for the chairmanship of a major standing Senate committee. The politician who may well break the drought is Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, provided he wins re-election next year. At this moment, no leading Republicans have stepped forth to challenge him.

If he gains a fourth term, Mr. Sarbanes will replace Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. of Michigan as head of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. The change will mean little in terms of ideology since both men are liberal, urban Democrats with high ratings from Americans for Democratic Action and low ratings from the American Conservative Union. But in temperament, the differences could hardly be greater. Mr. Riegle is a flamboyant populist, not above demagoging for headlines, while Mr. Sarbanes is so low profile, so adverse to publicity, that he has been dubbed an "invisible" or "stealth" senator.

That this can have substantive consequences was apparent in the previous Congress when Senator Riegle put together a broad-range banking reform bill in his badly fractured committee only to have it opposed by Senator Sarbanes and torpedoed in the House. The Marylander was characteristically cautious about changes supported by a Republican administration.

Special interest groups in the banking, insurance and real estate fields seem unruffled by Mr. Sarbanes' prospective advancement since he is regarded as a reasonable lawmaker who is unlikely to pursue an activist agenda. Because he shares jurisdiction over legislation vital to American cities with his Maryland colleague, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, head of the urban affairs appropriations subcommittee, Baltimore's needs are almost guaranteed close attention in the next Senate.

Mr. Sarbanes' accumulation of the seniority propelling him into a chairmanship began when the Jimmy Carter election of 1976 produced an unusually large freshman class of 18 new senators. While he is assured of the Banking Committee post if he is re-elected, he also could have the alternative of heading the more prestigious Foreign Relations Committee if Sen. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island retires and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware chooses to remain as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. The last Marylander in a chairmanship post was Millard E. Tydings, a far more conservative Democrat than Mr. Sarbanes, who headed the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1947 to 1951.

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