The Power of Seniority. Some House Democrats are once again talking about limiting the power of seniority just as — you guessed it — boatloads of African American members of Congress are hitting their maximum power because of seniority. The Black Caucus is at the peak of its seniority as members of the class of 1993 — which featured the largest group of Black members to enter Congress — hit the height of their seniority. The bottom line is that even though they are in the overall minority in the House, Black members will be able to leverage their “ranking member” status on Committees and subcommittees to influence agendas and raise money. Black members are positioned to run the table should the House flip in 2016. Think that can’t happen? Read this.
But some Democrats now want to limit the number of terms a member can serve as Chairman of a committee or subcommittee in the House.
Currently a member can serve as Chair as long as they like. There are currently no term limits on the Democrat side of the isle. For the next two years, there will be seven African American members who will serve as the most senior Democrat (or “ranking member” of a full committee). That’s never even come close to happening before. They are:
1. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) on the Judiciary Committee
2. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) on the Financial Services Committee
3. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) on the Science Committee
4. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) on the Homeland Security Committee
5. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) on the House Education and Workforce Committee
6. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) on Veterans Affairs
7. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) on Oversight and Government Reform
[It would be eight if not for the Rangel censure].
Additionally, there are at least ten Black members who will be the most senior member on a subcommittee in the House. This week it was learned that African American members will become the top Democrat on four out of five subcommittees on House Financial Services alone, in addition to Rep. Waters being the top Democrat on the full committee. They are:
1. Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) will be the top Democrat on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit
2. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) will be the top Democrat on Housing and Insurance
3. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) will be the top Democrat on Monetary Policy and Trade
4. Rep. Al Green (D-TX) will be the top Democrat on Oversight and Investigations
On House Judiciary where the Dean of the House John Conyers remains as the top Democrat of the full committee, Rep. Sheila Jackson (D-TX) Lee will be the most senior member of the Subcommittee on Crime. Another Judiciary subcommittee, Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law, has Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) as the most senior Democrat.
At some point a proposal to limit the time members can serve as ranking members is likely to go before the 188 Democrats in the House for a formal vote. If the CBC, CHC and Tri-Caucus join with senior white members on such a vote they should be able to defeat the idea. One of the CBC’s smartest members, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), serves on an internal committee that will have to confront the issue.