Voters may be screaming for wholesale change in Congress, but the notion doesn't sit well in Gucci Gulch. At a recent gathering of business lobbyists, the talk was of the 68 House and Senate members--so far--who won't be back next year. John C. White, a former Democratic Party chairman who now represents oil and gas and other business interests, summed up his colleagues' fears when he asked: "How are we going to make a living?"
Somehow, the lobbyists will survive. But with retirements already at a postwar record and angry voters increasingly willing to toss out incumbents, Corporate America could be in for some rough going on Capitol Hill. A crowd of new faces may make a capital-gains tax cut less likely, banking reform far more difficult, and a tax hike for the rich all but inevitable.
STIFF WELCOME. Retirements and primary defeats are taking a particularly heavy toll on some of the committees most important to business: House Ways & Means, Appropriations, and the banking panels in both the House and Senate. At least 7 of 23 Ways & Means Democrats won't be back. The departures span the ideological spectrum, but the key setback for business may be Representative Ed Jenkins (D-Ga.), a staunch supporter of preferential tax rates on capital gains.
But the loss of old friends may trouble lobbyists less than the attitudes of the newcomers. Prominent among them will be liberal minorities and women who have benefited from redistricting. Republicans and moderate Democrats are likely to win in the newly created Sunbelt districts. But even conservatives are running as insurgents. "The new members are running on anti-Washington themes, and when a Washington Establishment type comes to call representing business interests, they're going to get a very stiff welcome," says White.
While Republicans likely will gain seats in the House, the most powerful committees may well turn out to be more liberal. The Ways & Means vacancies, which could swell to more than a dozen by November, give Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) and the Democratic leadership a chance to fill the vacant seats with handpicked loyalists. Among the contenders: Representatives Mike Kopetski (Ore.), Gerald Kleczka (Wis.), and John Lewis (Ga.).
Banking could see the biggest upheaval. The Senate Banking Committee is losing its top Republican, Jake Garn (Utah), along with veteran Democrats Alan Cranston (Calif.), Alan Dixon (Ill.), and Timothy Wirth (Colo.) The House Banking Committee also is losing some senior members. In the process, the star of Representative Joseph Kennedy II (D-Mass.), who gave the industry fits during last year's bank-reform fight, is rising.
`BIG-TIME DISFAVOR.' This is bad news for the hopes of the financial-services industry for another try at reforming the nation's antiquated banking laws, and it may sound the death knell for any move to expand the powers of banks. "The new crowd would frown on that," says one senior Democratic staffer. "Big institutions will be in big-time disfavor." And the fight to fund the thrift cleanup will become increasingly difficult as new members resist paying for a mess left by their predecessors.
The last big influx of new members, the 1974 "Watergate babies," produced an undisciplined Congress resistant to any leadership. A big freshman class, many of whom are campaigning as bomb-throwers, is likely to prove equally rambunctious. A new wind blowing through the Capitol may be welcome, but it's likely to give business interests a good buffeting for a while.