Many House Democrats remain in limbo as outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues closed-door negotiations with Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) over next year’s House budget and committee ratios.
The California Democrat is in a tough position: she must say no to many junior Members who want to stay on exclusive committees, and she must allocate an already reduced budget to fund an additional leadership position she created for Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Complicating matters further is Boehner’s pledge to reduce the House’s overall operating budget by 5 percent next year.
So far, Democrats have named ranking members only for exclusive committees and have filled out membership in only one panel: Rules. The Steering and Policy Committee is expected to meet this week to recommend their picks for contested ranking member positions on the Armed Services, Intelligence, and Oversight and Government Reform committees.
Meanwhile, the delay in finalizing budgets for individual Member offices and committees has left Democratic staffers anxiously waiting to find out whether they will have a job next year. One senior Democratic leadership aide said that there is “a lot of angst” among staffers.
“Officially you can’t do anything until you have a ranking member,” the aide said.
Said another: “There’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of how they are going to pay their rent. Many people don’t know if they are going to have jobs ... for people who have families it’s a very unfortunate way to be spending the holiday season.”
Republicans are much further along than Democrats in filling out committees. They have selected chairmen and doled out several lower-level panel assignments. But the GOP is not without some uncertainty, too. Republican staffers on the Appropriations and Energy and Commerce committees don’t know whether they will remain on the Congressional payroll since both panels had a change in leadership.
The delay in settling such significant details isn’t completely out of the ordinary. Several aides and K Streeters said that when transitions in power occur, it often takes a while to come to an agreement on the budget for each party.
While her membership may be restless, Pelosi may still have some time to appeal for more seats.
In 2009, negotiations between Boehner and Pelosi went well into January. In a Jan. 12 letter, Boehner objected vigorously to Pelosi’s committee ratios, saying they could amount to “one party rule.”
Pelosi responded by adding three additional seats for the minority on key panels: two on Energy and Commerce and one on Financial Services.
While Pelosi is facing budget cuts, Boehner has a balancing act of his own. He is determined to cut the budget while trying to make sure his members have the resources they need.
“I don’t think they are in an unreasonable amount of time frame to sift through decisions that have not been made,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist who served on leadership staffs in the House and Senate. “This is not completely unusual. Now, do people want certainty? Yes, they do. That takes time, especially when you have so many new Members and committee structure.”