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Roll Call

Senate Democrats Seek to Expand Party Ratios On Some Committees

Tom Williams
The changes Reid seeks reflect Democrats’ two-seat gain in last week’s elections, provided both independent senators caucus with them.

Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing to expand his party’s footprint by an additional seat on Senate committees where Democrats now hold a single-seat margin.

Aides said Monday that the Democrats want to increase their advantage on these committees: Agriculture; Budget; Foreign Relations; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Special Aging; and Veterans Affairs.

Reid is not proposing to alter committee ratios on other panels where Democrats already hold more than a one-seat advantage.

The changes are intended to reflect the Democrats’ net gain of two seats in last week’s elections and the majority’s likely retention of two independents, provided that Maine Sen.-elect Angus King joins Bernard Sanders of Vermont in caucusing with Democrats.

King is expected to announce his intentions soon so he can seek committee positions.

Leaders are seeking swift approval of a roster of committee chairmen and party leaders during a Wednesday luncheon in order to allow the expanded Senate majority to lay plans for next year’s legislative agenda. The selections will not be formal until the full Senate votes in early January to approve them, along with changes that Democrats are seeking in committee ratios.

The majority plans to first re-elect party leaders — including Reid of Nevada, Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Caucus Vice Chairman Charles E. Schumer of New York — before designating committee chairmen.

Five Senate panels will get new leaders in the 113th Congress. And in some cases, the changes are likely to shift the tone and legislative emphasis of several panels.

Patty Murray of Washington, who will take the reins at the Budget Committee, is likely to take a tougher, partisan line in debt negotiations than her predecessor, the retiring Kent Conrad of North Dakota. Conrad has been part of a group of senators, led by Mark Warner of Virginia, discussing a possible bipartisan debt compromise. Murray is also expected to be re-elected as conference secretary, the fourth-ranking Democrat, on Wednesday.

Ron Wyden of Oregon, the successor to retiring Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, has signaled that he wants to pursue bipartisan initiatives and get around partisan roadblocks on energy-related issues.

Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, who will take over Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, is a longtime member of the centrist wing and has a penchant for working out bipartisan bills, as does his retiring predecessor, Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn. Carper has worked closely with Lieberman on a number of issues, including the stalled Postal Service overhaul (S 1789; HR 2309) and a pending cybersecurity overhaul (S 3414).

Maria Cantwell of Washington is expected to take over Indian Affairs, and Sanders is expected to wield the Veterans Affairs gavel.

“Be nice to me, I’m moving up in the world,” Sanders joked in an interview Monday. He vowed to pursue a number of priorities next year that have been laid out by Murray, who currently heads the panel. “I’m going to pick up where she left off.”

Sanders has been a liberal champion of generous veterans health care and job training initiatives, just as Murray has been. Likewise, Cantwell on the Indian Affairs panel has advocated for programs that serve American Indians and their members, following the interests of retiring chairman Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii.

Republicans are likely to wait, perhaps until January, to elect ranking members of Senate committees.

Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said that after Republicans appoint senators to committees, the GOP conference will elect a roster of ranking members. Any challenger for one of the seats would have to persuade the caucus to reject the full lineup.

Corker is in line to become the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, succeeding Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, who lost his primary contest.

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