The Wall Street Journal has put out some thoughts about who might take up Jim Oberstar’s mantle now that he’s lost his seat by the narrowest of margins. (He would have lost the chairmanship in any case, since control of Congress flipped to the Republicans, but he would have been the ranking Democrat on the committee.) Will the spirit of bipartisanship that governed Oberstar’s relationship with his ranking member, Rep. John Mica, continue now that Mica is in the chair? If so, the next ranking member could help shape the reauthorization.
Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia would be next in line to become ranking member in January, but he already chairs the Natural Resources Committee and it’s not clear he’d switch (setting off a chain of changes in that committee as well.) Rahall’s transportation priorities – for his own, very rural, district, at least – lean toward highway construction and expansion.
And it’s not clear that he’d have to drop out of one committee to become ranking member of another. House rules only allow a member to chair one full committee at a time. I’ve checked with the House Rules Committee and the Speaker’s office and so far no one knows if the same is true for ranking members. I’ll let you know once I hear.
If Rahall is out, then the games begin.
Next in line for the job behind Mr. Rahall is Rep. Peter DeFazio, a liberal Democrat from Oregon who favors increased spending on public-transit projects.
Another Democrat in the running is Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is the elected representative from Washington, D.C. Because Ms. Norton doesn’t represent a state, she isn’t a full-fledged members of Congress. She is permitted to vote on legislation in committees, but she does not have vote on the House floor.
If Ms. Norton becomes the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, she could draw the ire of tea party Republicans, who are already opposed to government spending — much less spending-bills promoted by a lawmaker who doesn’t have full voting rights in Congress.