quasi in rem

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Senate Chairman Merry-Go-Round

Over at Southern Appeal, Adam has a post noting that rumors are circulating that Senator Frist may suspend the chairman term limits rule for Senate Committees. According to several sources, Frist is looking into a rule change. The current rule states: "A senator shall serve no more than six years as chair and six years as ranking member of any standing committee." But I am not so sure that Frist's interest in the rule change has anything to do with comparing the stewardship of Senator Hatch versus Senator Specter over the Senate Judiciary Committee. That is only one of several issues because the Senate has several Senators that will be term limited this year.

For example, Senator Stevens (pictured below, and with that picture how can not want to root for the guy,)

will be term limited out at Appropriations and replaced as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee by Senator Thad Cochran(R-MS).

Senator Cochran will then no longer be the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and he will be replaced by either Senator Lugar, who is currently Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, unless he has already been term limited out, which seems possible. If not Lugar, then the Chairmanship would fall to Senator Mitch McConnell. However, if Senator Lugar is not term limited and returns to Chair the Agriculture Committee then he will be replaced as the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee by Senator Chuck Hagel, a man who has a knack for finding himself in front of rolling television cameras and is not shy about criticizing the President on his Iraq policy.

However it is not entirely clear that Senator Cochran wants to give up his post in the Agriculture Committee (although his website already touts him as the next Chairman of the Appropriations Committee). This is because Senator Cochran is also the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and is expected to retain the position as the No. 1 Republican on that subcommittee after the fall elections. Because he holds both the top party position on the agriculture committee and the top position on the agricultural appropriations subcommittee, Senator Cochran the single most powerful figure in agriculture in Washington. The Farm Bill will come up for revision in 2007, and if the Senate is still Republican hands at that time, it will be his bill.

If for those reasons, Senator Cochran chooses not to become the next Appropriations chair, then that responsibility would fall to Senator Arlen Specter, who would likely choose Judiciary over Appropriations for the airtime, considering the upcoming Supreme Court Nominations. (If any openings are left after this fall that is). If Senator Specter does not take that chair then it would fall to Senator Domenici. Senator Domenici would then have to give up the Energy Committe Chairmanship which would fall to Senator Craig.

Meanwhile, Senator Stevens would replace Senator John McCain as Chairman of the Commerce Committee. If Senator Stevens replaces Senator McCain on Commerce then Senator McCain will replace Senator Ben "Nighthorse" Cambell on the Indian Affairs Committee. If there was any committee that meant for Senator Campbell then it is the Indian Affairs Committee.

But, I digress. If Senator Hatch is term limited out of the Judiciary Committee, then he will take over from Senator Chuck Grassley at the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Grassley would then take over the Senate Budget Committee. This should happen anyway because Senator Nickles is retiring. Unless, of course, Senator Domenici would rather become the chairman of the Budget Committee, as he has seniority. That would, once again make Senator Craig the new Chairman of Energy and Grassley the Chairman of nothing.

Now all of this nonsense hinges on a number of factors. First and foremost, Senators Campbell, Specter, Grassley and McCain are all up for re-election and will not be Chairing any committees if they lose. Next there are 36 seats up for re-election this year with at least seven open seats, so anything could happen, including a Democratic return to power. Those roads in West Virginia may get one more useless repaving yet!

What this is meant to demonstrate is there are a number factors up for consideration in determinig whether or not to extend the six year term limit system. Personally, I think that the term limits are a good idea, in general. They keep the money really moving around in Washington, and prevent comittees from getting too comfortable with continuing resolutions. Plus on Appropriations the Chairman has significant power to direct pork back to his home state and if this position is awarded on a rotating basis, then at least the pork will get a nice even distribution. (Remembering that as long as John McCain represents Arizona, I wouldn't expect too much flowing to that particular state.) Conservatives who fear Senator Specter as the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee should not move to have the term limits replaced, but instead should be out campaigning for Pat Toomey. If Rick Santorum can win, then so can Pat Toomey.


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