Some Changes in Congress Certain After Tuesday

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Regardless of tomorrow’s election outcome there will be some significant changes in two of the key congressional committees that oversee child welfare: the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Senate Finance Committee will have a new Chair regardless of the election. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is retiring and if Republicans retain control the next chair will likely be Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) or if he chooses another key committee chairmanship Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID). The uncertainly has to do with limitations on the number of “A” committee assignments and chairmanships you can have and the Republican caucus has a self-imposed term limit of six years on chairmanships.

Senator Grassley is currently the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee (another A committee) and he cannot be chair of both the Senate Finance Committee and Judiciary Committee. It is unclear what he will decide. It is believed that he still has another two years as chair of the Finance Committee but he may want to remain at Judiciary overseeing the passage of the President’s court nominees including any potential Supreme Court nomination. Grassley has also been seeking reforms of the criminal justice and juvenile justice sentencing structure. If he keeps Judiciary then Senator Mike Crapo is likely to be next up in terms of the committee seniority. Republicans do allow a secret ballot selection of the committee chairs so the order is not guaranteed.

The Finance Committee has 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats. If the Democrats were to win the Senate that number would flip. If not Republicans will have to fill at least the vacancy created by the Hatch retirement. There could also be a direct impact on the Senate Finance Committee based on individual state races. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) are all in reelection campaigns judged as close or competitive.

All the uncertainty in the Senate is even greater in the House where the changes on the House Ways and Means Committee will be much more dramatic.

If Republicans maintain their control of the House they will retain control of the Committee and its 25 to 16 majority. The 25 to 16 makeup could change if Republican hold onto the House by just a few seats. Regardless, the Committee is losing four members (plus a current vacancy) with the exit or retirement of Congresswoman Dianne Black (R-TN), Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Congressman Dave Reichert (D-WA) and Congressman Jim Renacci (R-OH). There are also several Republican seats that could open depending on election results. Congressman Mike Bishop (R-MI), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Erik Paulsen (R-MN) are all in races that are considered close. The Democrats have two departures with Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI) and Joe Crowley (D-NY) both leaving.

If the Democrats take control of the House, as many are predicting, then control of the Committee switches with the Democrats taking at least 25 seats and that would mean the much-sought-after Ways and Means Committee would have 11 new seats for Democrats to fill between gaining the majority and filling to two open seats.

If Democrats win then Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) becomes the new chair with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) becoming the ranking member. All of this means some dramatic shake-ups in the various subcommittees especially with the Human Resources Subcommittee which is frequently the last subcommittee of choice for many members.

The biggest determinant to look for tomorrow is control of the House and Senate. A change in control means not just shake-ups in these two key committees but a change-over in chairmanship, committee membership and roles in a number key committees including Appropriations, Judiciary, Education and Workforce, HELP, the Budget committees and many other committees and subcommittees.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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