Issues Await if Democrats Retake House
As the start of the fall campaign looms and House Democrats remain within realistic reach of reclaiming the majority, party leaders are beginning to explore the delicate question of what happens if they win.
Rusty from being out of power for 12 years, Democrats are rethinking how they should parcel out coveted committee chairmanships and the other plums that would come with House control at a time when the party’s potential chairmen are increasingly being portrayed by Republicans as liberal extremists.
Democratic leaders are hinting they might abandon party tradition and award sought-after slots not solely on the basis of seniority, but instead follow the Republican lead of also weighing such factors as legislative record, diversity and work for the good of the party.
“Seniority is a consideration, but merit of course must come first,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, who has approved a review of party rules so Democrats are not left scrambling should they reach their political goal.
Since winning the majority in 1994, Republicans have not hesitated to pass over senior lawmakers for chairmanships in favor of members more in tune with the leadership’s ideology or more assertive in fund-raising than their rivals.
Democrats anticipate they could face something of a generational clash in the event of a takeover. All of the lawmakers in line to lead major committees were in Congress before Republicans gained control in the 1994 elections, and some have bided their time in the minority for one more chance at the gavel.
But most of the Democratic caucus has been elected since 1994, and there will be some Young Turks who will argue that the old-line Democrats had their chance and that power should be shared. Already there have been calls to retain the term limits that Republicans imposed on their committee chairmen.