House Plans for 109th As 108th Finishes Up

Posted November 5, 2004 at 6:43pm

While the House agenda for next week’s lame-duck session is focused on the omnibus spending bill, much of the action will occur off the floor as both parties welcome their new Members and begin organizing for the 109th Congress.

Democrats will get an early start, meeting Tuesday to begin strategizing for the lame-duck session and recapping the Nov. 2 election. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will meet with committee ranking members and her Steering and Policy Committee and later, during her leader’s lunch, with a broader section of the Caucus.

The minority party will wait until next week to re-elect its current leadership and, along with the GOP, orient the party’s incoming freshman Members.

Looking further ahead, the Democratic Steering Committee has several key decisions before the 109th begins, including naming three new ranking members, deciding committee placement for 15 new Members and assigning five exclusive panel positions. While it is unclear when freshmen will get their assignments, Democratic leaders have already instructed the incoming lawmakers to make their requests now.

The Steering Committee will wait to hear from the GOP about committee ratios for the next session before making its decisions. But when it does, senior Democratic sources said it is all but certain to tap Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) to succeed Rep. Martin Frost (Texas) atop the Rules Committee and Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) to replace retiring Rep. Jim Turner (Texas) as the Homeland Security ranking member.

It also must determine a ranking member replacement on the Agriculture Committee for Rep. Charlie Stenholm (Texas), who lost his re-election bid. Leaders are weighing whether to give Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), next in seniority on that committee, the top Democratic position. Leaders may bypass him, sources said, since they are frustrated he failed to contribute his party dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this cycle.

“It’s an open question,” said a Democratic leadership aide. “The question is: Is he going to pay his DCCC dues and contribute to the party? Once that decision is made, then the decision will be made whether to look at alternatives.”

Beyond the ranking positions, five exclusive panel positions are now open on the minority side, including two on the Ways and Means Committee and three on the Energy and Commerce panel. Those numbers could dwindle, however, if the growing GOP majority decides to widen the committee ratio gap.

On the Republican side, the GOP Conference will have to wait at least until it elects members of the Steering Committee and re-elects its leaders during the lame-duck session before it makes its panel decisions.

Republican aides said the party may re-elect its incumbent chairmen during the lame-duck session but would put off decisions on two key open gavels — at the Appropriations and Rules committees — until January.

Other Steering decisions are also likely to wait until early next year. It is not yet clear whether Republicans will move to increase their committee dominance following their pickup of at least two seats on Election Day, and at the moment only a handful of exclusive panel slots are expected to be open.

Notably, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) said last week that he would move to reclaim his old seat on the Ways and Means Committee. He had taken leave from the panel to join the Rules Committee.

While Republicans and Democrats deal with internal housekeeping matters during the lame-duck session, the 38 newly elected lawmakers will attend a weeklong series of orientation events.

New Members from both parties will arrive in Washington, D.C., along with their spouses on Nov. 13, and check in at their hotel that night. The formal orientation program will begin Sunday with programs put on by the House Administration Committee as well as tours of local museums and other landmarks.

Monday’s agenda will include the freshman class picture, a tour of the Capitol, a reception hosted by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and more seminars put on by House Administration.

All of Sunday’s and Monday’s seminars will take place in the Cannon Caucus Room and will cover such subjects as technology, Members’ representational allowances, constituent service, and legal and ethics issues. Staffers from the offices of the Chief Administrative Officer, the House Clerk, the Parliamentarian and the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will help conduct the sessions.

On Tuesday, Republicans will attend a breakfast hosted by the GOP Policy Committee and will likely convene in geographic groups to elect regional representatives to the Steering Committee.

On the Democratic side, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) on Tuesday will host a breakfast with the freshmen, while Pelosi will host a luncheon and dinner later that day to introduce the new Members to the Caucus.

Wednesday’s schedule features seminars run by the Congressional Management Foundation as well as a reception hosted by House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and a full Republican Conference meeting.

The full Democratic Caucus also will get together for a day of organizational planning on Wednesday, when it is expected to elect leadership for the 109th. The current lineup — Pelosi, Hoyer, Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Vice Chairman James Clyburn (S.C.) — is expected to stand for another two-year term. No challenges are anticipated.

New GOP Members will spend Thursday receiving briefings from the NRCC. Democrats will have a similar session with the DCCC.

The office lottery, meanwhile, will take place all week, with freshman lawmakers picking Friday.