FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski could once again chair key committees if Republicans regain control of the Senate, following the November election.
Republican U.S. senators decided Tuesday not to curtail opportunities for senior colleagues to serve as committee chairmen in the future.
The Senate Republican conference, voting at its weekly meeting, approved language that clarifies how it will apply term limits to its chairmen and ranking members.
The decision leaves Stevens in line to reclaim the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee without penalty for his time spent as ranking member of the committee, should Republicans obtain a majority in the coming election.
Stevens lost the top spot last year when Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont declared himself an independent and joined the Democratic caucus. Stevens remains ranking member, the top minority position on a committee.
Earlier this year, some Republican members, including Pennsylvania GOP Sens. Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, began asserting that time spent as a ranking member should count against the six-year term limit on chairmanships that the caucus imposed on its members.
They based this on an interpretation of the original caucus rule.
Others, such as Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., wanted to do away with term limits entirely.
Tuesday's decision was a good compromise, Stevens said. The version that passed was proposed by Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. The amendment states that ''a senator shall serve no more than six years, cumulatively, as chairman of the same standing committee.''
Time served as ranking member shall not be counted as time served as chairman.
Stevens assumed the reins of the Appropriations Committee in 1997 after Republicans won a majority in the 1996 elections. He had served about four and a half years as chairman when the Democrats regained control last year.
Murkowski is ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He obtained that post in 1995 and held it until control shifted to Democrats in June last year. He would have only about six months remaining in his chairmanship if Republicans regain control this fall.
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