Changes coming to key congressional committees despite status-quo election

With control of the Senate and the House remaining unchanged after Tuesday’s election, both parties will retain leadership of their respective committees.

But retirements and committee-term limits will mean some new faces on key panels with oversight of the federal workforce and government management.

Leadership in the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will change in both parties. Senior committee member Tom Carper (D-Del.), who won his re-election bid, is expected to take over as chairman after Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), retires at the end of the year. Democrat Chris Murphy won a three-way race to succeed Lieberman.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was not up for re-election, but term limits keep her from maintaining her role as ranking member on the committee. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is next in line.


Changes at the top of the committee are expected to lead to some shakeups at the subcommittee level.

Carper currently chairs the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee, and if he succeeds Lieberman as chairman of the full committee, it’s unclear if he would retain his subcommittee post.

The ranking member of the subcommmittee, Scott Brown (R-Mass.), lost his re-election bid.

Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee, is retiring. Sen. Carl Levin (D- Mich.) is the next most senior member. However it’s unclear if he would take over leadership of the subcommittee because he currently chairs the Senate Armed Servcices Committee. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) defeated former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R) in the race for Akaka’s Senate seat.

Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who won re-election against a challenge from Todd Akin (R), will continue as chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, with Ranking Member Rob Portman (R-Ohio). She will also continue leadership of the Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Armed Services Committees

Senate Armed Services Member Jim Webb (D-Va.) is retiring this year. He’s the chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee and, with the retirements of Lieberman and Akaka, McCaskill is the next senior member.

Two former Virginia governors squared off for Webb’s soon-to-be vacant seat — Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen. Kaine was the victor at the end of the night.

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) both won their re-election bids.

Appropriations and Budget Committees

On the House Appropriations Committee, Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) is retiring and both Marchy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) are in the running to succeed him. They both won on Tuesday.

Democratic and Republican leaders on the Senate Appropriations Committee were not up for re-election this year. However, because Republicans were unable to win the Senate, Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is expected to step down as ranking member due to term limits.

Although Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, lost his bid to be the next vice president, he won the race to retain his House seat. While his term limit for serving as chairman is expiring at the end of the year, he is all but certain to receive a waiver from House leadership to keep his post.

On the Senate side, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who served on last year’s unsuccessful deficit-cutting supercommittee, is next in line for the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, following Kent Conrad’s (D-N.D.) retirement at the end of the year.

Analysts see missed opportunity for Republicans

Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Northern Virginia, now with Deloitte Consulting, said the results represent a missed opportunity for Republicans.

“The fact that Republicans weren’t able to move the needle I think says a lot about the state of American politics this year for the Democrats,” he said. “The Senate will stay Democratic. The presidency will stay Democratic, and the House is going to stay decisively Republican.”

Senate Democrats kept their majority of 54 seats and the Republicans ended the night with 45 seats, CBS reports. Republicans retained control of the House with 232 seats compared to the Democrats’ 192, according to CNN projections as of Wednesday afternoon.

In the Senate, incumbent Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) lost to Elizabeth Warren (D). Angus King (I) won the race to succeed outgoing incumbent Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). In Indiana, Democrat Joe Donnelly defeated Republican candidate Richard Mourdock, who beat long-time Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in the Republican primary. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) successfully staved off a challenge from Todd Akin (R).

One bright spot for the GOP was in Nebraska where Republican Deb Fisher claimed retiring Sen. Ben Nelsen’s (D-Neb.) seat by defeating former governor and former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D- Neb.).

No clear mandate for anyone

According to Davis, the lack of significant change in either house combined with the close presidential race means that neither party has a clear mandate on how they can move the country forward.

“It means that when the President walks up and says ‘I have a mandate,’ the House Republicans can come back and say ‘Well, we have a mandate too. Our majority is as strong and firm as ever. Mr. President, you have a reduced margin from your last electoral victory.’ And, I think it puts them on a fairly even footing in terms of making some kinds of compromises,” he said.

Both sides will need to step away from their respective positions if they expect to make any progress going forward, though Davis was uncertain whether any real progress could be made.

“You’d like to think at the point the sequestering is going to have serious enough economic ramifications and not extending the tax cuts would have serious economic ramifications,” he said. “If they can’t reach some compromise on that, we’re back in a recession. So you’d think that would move them, but they’re both going to have to come off their stated positions, I think, to make this work.”

(Federal News Radio’s Jack Moore contributed to this report).


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