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Lame Duck Congress Selects Committee Chairs for Next Session

Nov 24, 2008

When Congress returned to Washington, D.C., last week for a lame duck session, legislators took the opportunity to select party leaders for the next session of Congress. While there were relatively few changes on either side, the House Democratic Caucus chose Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to replace Rep. John Dingell on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

In the upper house, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) retained his position as Majority Leader, while Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) will stay on as Majority Whip. The other Democratic leadership positions, Sen. Patty Murray (D-OR) as Conference Secretary and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as Caucus Vice Chairman, will remain the same as well.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will continue his post as Minority Leader with Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) as the Republican Whip. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) replaces Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) as head of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Ensign moved over to head the Republican Policy Committee vacated by Sen. Kay Hutchison (R-TX), who is considering a run for governor of Texas. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) takes Cornyn's vacated position as Republican Conference Vice Chairman.

Democrats have increased their majority in the Senate by at least seven seats with two races still undecided. Because the two Independent senators caucus with the Democrats, they already have a 58-40 margin. Unless the Republicans can hold on to one of the undecided races in Minnesota and Georgia, they will lose their ability to filibuster a bill if Democrats are united.

In one closely watched development, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) was allowed to retain his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Although Lieberman had openly supported Senator John McCain (R-AZ) for president, President-elect Obama signaled that he preferred reconciliation over retribution and Lieberman's Democratic colleagues agreed.

Senate committee positions were not determined, but there will be some changes. Vice President-elect Joe Biden will vacate his position as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) has agreed to allow Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) to become Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Those changes could create a game of musical chairs when the new Congress convenes in January. Odds are good, however, that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) will remain Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Ranking Member of that committee, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) will need to get past a runoff election in December to retain that position.

The leadership of the House of Representatives also remains much the same. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will remain the Speaker of the House, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) also retained their positions. Rep. John Larson (D-CT) was elected to replace Rahm Emanuel as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, who is headed to the White House to become Chief of Staff for President-elect Obama.

Although the Republicans lost at least 20 seats this year, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) was re-elected the Minority Leader. A few other Republican leadership positions changed hands; Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) was selected to be Minority Whip, and Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) was selected to be Republican Conference Chairman.

While most committee chairs in the House will remain the same, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) successfully ousted Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) to become the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"Waxman is considered more liberal than Dingell and more likely to pursue legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions," said Jerry Slominski, IDFA senior vice president of legislative affairs. "On the other hand, Waxman may offer an alternative to Dingell on food safety legislation."


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