Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is having a tough time selling a plan to parcel out subcommittee chairmanships to incoming freshmen while taking them away from the more established rank and file.
Already, Reid has made it known that he will enforce a little-known Senate rule that limits full committee chairmen to holding just one subcommittee gavel, but he also hopes to limit non-full-committee chairmen to no more than two subcommittee chairmanships.
Reid effectively has had to postpone an otherwise routine announcement of who will chair Senate panels in the 111th Congress because of the laborious process, which involves a lobbying campaign of senior Senators to surrender potentially plum subcommittee slots to benefit more junior Members.
Hes trying to adjudge Member anger, said one Senate Democratic aide, who noted Reids expanded 58-Member majority which could increase by one or two more seats before years end has made him eager to hand out gavels to new Senators.
However, for existing subcommittee chairman, its about staff and money, the aide explained.
Some of the delay has come because Senators who only hold subcommittee gavels are looking to full committee chairmen to move first before they sacrifice anything for the team.
Once the 10 most senior people give up some of the cornucopia of goodies they have, then the rest of the caucus might be willing to follow suit, another Senate Democratic aide said.
As originally conceived, the subcommittee plan would allow each Senator to choose one subcommittee chairmanship in order of their seniority in the Conference. Once everyone had chosen one, Members who are not full committee chairmen would go through a second round of picks.
But that plan has received resistance because some Members could lose other panels on which they have seniority. For example, a Senator such as Tom Carper (D-Del.) could use his first round pick to keep his subcommittee chairmanship of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, only to watch someone else grab up the other subcommittee gavels he currently wields on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee or the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel.
With Reid hoping to give every Democratic Senator a subcommittee chairmanship, only a handful would even get more than one. There are currently 72 subcommittees in the Senate, which means a maximum of 16 Democrats would be able to sit atop two subcommittees.
Senators discussed Reids plans at the Democrats organizational meeting on Nov. 18 but came to no conclusions, aides said.
It was at that same meeting that Democrats voted to retain Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) as chairman of Homeland Security but stripped him of his membership on EPW. Lieberman argued afterward that he offered up the EPW slot in part to keep with Reids newly enforced committee chairmanship rules.
There are bigger bulls in the Senate that are going to fight Sen. Reid on this. This sort of thing might be stopped in its track, said yet another Senate Democratic aide.
Already some Members are talking about their decisions. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told Roll Call: Im not going to give up the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee and Im not going to give up Foreign Operations.