A partisan dispute is shaping up in the Senate over Majority Leader Harry Reid’s plan to increase the majority’s advantage on some Senate committees from one seat to two.
“With our new numbers, there are not going to be any more one-seat majorities,” Reid, D-Nev., said Wednesday in an interview.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to comment on whether he will push back against Reid’s plan, although some other Republicans were not hesitant to voice their objections. “We’ll be negotiating committee ratios, the two of us, like we always do,” McConnell said.
Counting the two independent senators who will caucus with the Democratic majority in the new Congress, Democrats emerged from this month’s elections with a net gain of two Senate seats, effectively giving them a 55-45 count.
Democratic aides said Reid and his team plan to increase the Democratic advantage on eight panels: Agriculture; Budget; Foreign Relations; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Aging; and Veterans’ Affairs.
“That doesn’t sound reasonable, does it? There was just a change of two seats in the election,” said Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who is in line to become the top GOP member on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
“I would not want to do that. It will be part of the difficult organizational negotiations that the leaders will have to resolve,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who is planning to remain ranking member on Budget in the 113th Congress.
Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University, said tough negotiations over committee ratios could signal there will be difficult negotiations on other issues.
“Left to their own devices, I think the two leaders can work this out. I would be more concerned if outside voices would be heard that oppose changes in committee ratios,” Baker said. “The burden is on Republicans to recognize that ... the composition of the Senate has changed in a direction that is favorable to the president.”
Party leaders traditionally have adjusted Senate committee ratios by shifting seats between the parties, rather than by adding seats to panels. But Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said Reid should consider expanding committees to provide an additional seat for Democrats while leaving the current GOP allotment of seats intact. “This would probably go better if he is looking to add members, versus take away members,” Johanns said.
Aides said Reid does not want to change the ratios on other committees, where Democrats already hold an advantage of more than one seat.
Reid said he does not plan to formally name committee chairmen until party ratios are set and vacant seats on committees are filled.
A Democratic senator who asked not be named said there is little mystery about who will lead each committee, but that caucus leaders may be delaying announcing chairmen because of uncertainty surrounding the status of current Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., who is widely thought to be in line for a Cabinet post in the Obama administration.
Kerry’s nomination as secretary of State or Defense would prompt appointment of an interim Foreign Relations chairman.