As he agonized whether to vote for war in Iraq, Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, attended every briefing possible and debated with leaders across the political spectrum.
Now he finds that ended up earning him a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee - the only freshman to be named to that high-profile committee this new Congress.That was announced Thursday, as was his appointment to the Small Business Committee. His appointment to the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee had been announced earlier.
The foreign affairs and banking committees are considered "major," and normally members can only be appointed to just one major committee at any given time. Orton was given an exception, and given a "temporary" assignment to foreign affairs - which is good for the entire two-year Congress and is renewable.
Orton said that as he deliberated on war with Iraq, he talked to Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante Fascell, D-N.Y., several times - as well as other House leaders.
"I think they saw the effort I put in and saw my concerns, and when I asked for a seat on foreign affairs, I think that probably had an impact. They knew who I am," Orton said.
Fascell was one of the main sponsors of the resolution to authorize war as President Bush requested, and for which Orton voted.
But Orton said, "I don't think the way I voted helped. It wasn't a question of was I on the right side. I think the process I went through had a lot to do with it because they had an opportunity to see me through that process . . . the way I deliberate the issues."
Orton's assignments will allow him to address such high-profile problems as the savings and loan crisis, the war and the restructuring of Eastern Europe. But it doesn't position him well to fight for federal projects for his district.
"It could be a political millstone around my neck to be involved in those issues, but somebody's got to do it. That's why I was elected and sent back here," Orton said.
He said his committee priorities include work on banking reform, helping to create a Peace-Corps-like "democracy corps" to help emerging democracies in Eastern Europe through private enterprise and monitoring the Iraqi War.
Orton, the only tax attorney in Congress, hopes someday to earn a spot on the Ways and Means Committee - which normally requires several terms of seniority to achieve. Until then, he said he is more than happy with his assignments.
Orton said his office will also put a high priority on solving constituents problems with the federal government, and work hard on individual issues affecting it - such as completing the Central Utah Project.