House Speaker Dennis Hastert has given a boost to Rep. Billy Tauzin's (R-La.) bid to chair the Commerce Committee. In an April 4 letter, Hastert said Tauzin's 15 years as a Democrat will count toward his seniority, giving the party-switching lawmaker a 13-month edge over rival Rep. Michael Oxley (R-Ohio). Tauzin, who heads the Commerce panel's Telecommunications Subcommittee, joined the Republicans in 1995. Oxley heads the Finance and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee. Speculation over who will head the full committee flared after Chairman Tom Bliley of Virginia announced that he will retire at the end of the year. Although tradition calls for the most senior members to win committee chairmanships, the actual slate of committee chiefs is decided by a vote of majority-party members and could nominate more-junior members.