Transfer of Power
Outsider states become insiders in the 110th Congress.
For much of the last century, under both Democratic and Republican rule, Texas has been a congressional powerhouse. The state has sent three Democratic House speakers to Washington, two Republican House majority leaders and numerous other powerful, longtime committee chairmen. Three Texans have been elected president; two of them prepped with a stint in the Texas congressional delegation.
As recently as two years ago, Texas had the largest GOP delegation in the House-21 members-and one of the most influential. Tom DeLay was the majority leader, Joe Barton chaired the heavyweight Energy and Commerce Committee and Henry Bonilla headed the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, making him a member of "the college of cardinals," the elite appropriations subcommittee chairs who control the purse strings.
But as the 110th Congress begins, Texas is a congressional also-ran. DeLay resigned last year, Bonilla lost his reelection bid and Barton's chairmanship vanished when Republicans lost their majority in the House. Democrat Chet Edwards is a cardinal (Military Construction/Veterans Affairs) but there are no Texans in top leadership posts in either party and just one who holds a full committee chairmanship-Democrat Silvestre Reyes, the new Intelligence Committee chair.
This is a serious loss of clout for Texas and illustrates an overlooked consequence of the new Democratic majority. States like Texas, which prospered under Republican rule, could be on the outs. And states that struggled to advance their interests now will be on the inside. These newly empowered congressional delegations will be wielding more influence on Capitol Hill, positioned to set the legislative agenda, alter federal funding priorities and shape the regulatory environment in ways that favor a different set of home-state interests.
New York is one of the biggest winners. After picking up three Republican-held seats in 2006, the Democratic House delegation is 23 members strong-roughly one-tenth of the Democratic Caucus. New Yorkers now chair three full House committees (Rules, Small Business, and Ways and Means), two appropriations subcommittees, and hold two additional slots on other exclusive committees. Sen. Chuck Schumer has ascended to the No. 3 position in party leadership.
California is another beneficiary of a Democratic Congress. The state more than held its own under 12 years of GOP rule-at one time during the 109th Congress, California Republicans served as chairmen of six different committees, including the money-spending Appropriations panel and tax-writing Ways and Means-but the state is in a stronger position than ever, thanks to the election of San Francisco-based House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
With 34 Democrats, California is the largest and most dominant bloc in the 233-member Democratic Caucus. Five Californians hold committee chairmanships; the number of California Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee grew from two to five. Senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein will chair the Appropriations Interior Subcommittee and the Rules and Administration Committee; Sen. Barbara Boxer chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Megastates like California and New York aren't the only ones poised to flourish. With six Democrats in its nine-member House delegation, Washington state interests such as Boeing and Microsoft will be well-served. Rep. Norm Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray chair appropriations subcommittees; Murray also holds a top Democratic leadership position. Minnesota also will muscle up in the House since it gained a new Democratic appropriator-Betty McCollum-and two of its eight members are now key committee chairmen-Collin Peterson (Agriculture) and Jim Oberstar (Transportation).
Florida, on the other hand, will see its influence wane since seniority is the building block for congressional clout and the state is sorely lacking in that department. The Senate delegation is among the most junior; five of the state's 25 House members are freshmen. There isn't a single committee chairman who hails from Florida. Worse, in a Democratic-controlled House, 16 of the state's 25 seats are held by Republicans. While Florida boasts a House appropriations cardinal, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, her fiefdom is probably the least useful of all for advancing Florida interests-she chairs the Legislative Branch Subcommittee, which oversees the budget for the House and the U.S. Capitol.
Charles Mahtesian is editor of The Almanac of American Politics.