Livingston Reverses Decision, Plans Run For 12th Term
By Andrew Taylor, CQ Staff Writer
In an about-face he attributed to pressure from constituents, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert L. Livingston, R-La., has opted to stay for one last term as chairman of the powerful panel.
Livingston announced Feb. 19 that he would run for a 12th term. Less than 48 hours earlier, he said, his mind was made up to leave Congress for more lucrative private sector employment.
Livingston's switch will forestall a run by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who has twice made it into runoffs for statewide office as a Republican. The power vacuum caused by Livingston's potential retirement in the state's most Republican district was widely viewed as an opportunity for Duke, who had said he would run for the seat if Livingston retired.
Under GOP Conference rules, Livingston may remain chairman for a total of three terms or until 2001, assuming Republicans retain control of the House. He said he will probably retire then unless House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., leaves Congress. If so, Livingston said, he would consider a run for Speaker.
As chairman, Livingston has repeatedly been caught in cross-fire between the House Republican majority's desire to reshape government and the political reality imposed by a Democratic White House and a Senate disinclined toward revolution.
Livingston has had to move adroitly between two clashing cultures: the pragmatic, get-the-bills-done world of the Appropriations Committee and the give-no-quarter mindset that ruled when Republicans took over Congress in 1995.
After a riotous first year, Livingston's penchant for revolution was eclipsed by a pragmatic streak and deep loyalty to the appropriations process -- and to the House as an institution.
After the politically disastrous partial government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, leaders gave Livingston greater latitude to compromise with Clinton and congressional Democrats to get the 13 annual spending bills completed.
Except for a few House GOP revolutionaries who think he is too quick to compromise, Livingston has won kudos for his handling of the committee.
"He gets fairly high marks across the board," said Dan Meyer, former Gingrich chief of staff, now vice president of the Duberstein Group consulting firm. "Republicans feel that one of their successes has been holding down appropriated spending."
Livingston, 54, had been contemplating retirement for some time. Like many other lawmakers who maintain two homes and put their children through college, he is not wealthy.
But when making a round of town meetings in his southeastern Louisiana district, Livingston heard repeated entreaties to stay. As chairman of Appropriations, Livingston has steered federal largess to Louisiana, though he does so more quietly than other appropriators.
Livingston said his resolve to quit began to break after a Feb. 17 town meeting in Hammond, north of New Orleans. The next day, a group of civic and business leaders, including retired Roman Catholic Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, "proceeded one by one to give me one cogent argument after another as to why I should at least finish my term" as chairman. Added Livingston: "I came in broke and I still am. And I'll be broke when I leave."
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