Committee Seniority Violations in the U.S. House -
104th through 110th Congresses, 1995-2008

Russell D. Renka and Daniel E. Ponder

Annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association,
Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel, San Diego, CA., March 20-23, 2008
Panel 9.03 - Pork and Some Side Dishes, Friday, March 21, 3:15 - 5:00 p.m.

Abstract:  We show that term limitations on the tenure of U.S. House committee chairpersons is the chief source of committee seniority violations.  House Republicans adopted a three-term limitation in 1995, making it effective in the 107th House in 2001.  Since that time there have been numerous violations, whereas earlier Republican congresses had few.  House Democrats, who did not adopt term limitations, had almost no violations.  The addition of the 110th House of 2007-08 shows that reversion of Republicans to minority status and Democrats to power did not change the path of either party.  We conclude that seniority violations are largely a structurally induced phenomenon attributable to opportunity created by the Republican term limitations.

internal links:
Table 1.  House Republican Committee Chair Positions, 1995 to 2006
Table 2.  House Democratic Ranking Minority Positions, 1995 to 2006
Table 3.  House Republican Committee Leadership Positions, 104th through 110th Congresses, 1995-2008
Table 4.  House Democratic Committee Leadership Positions, 104th through 110th Congresses, 1995-2008
Discussion
Works Cited

    Committee seniority is not what it used to be.  The practice once defined the textbook Congress dating from the 1910s downfall of Speaker Joseph Cannon right up to the mid-1970s adoption of serious structural reform and strengthening of partisan institutions by the House Democrats.  In its most important form the practice meant that any majority party member with longest unbroken service on a standing committee had an automatic right to chair that committee, subject only to limitation to a single committee per Member.  The 1973 House Democratic rules and 1975 overthrow of three senior southern chairpersons ended the automatic application of this practice, but it still prevailed in the vast majority of chairing decisions over the next 20 years of House Democratic majorities.  The breakthrough to power by the House Republicans in 1994 created another opportunity to curb the practice of naming the most senior person the chair or ranking member.  Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich famously took the preemptive action in November 1994 of naming all the incoming chairs himself, and in three instances he disregarded the most senior person for a less senior colleague.  But as importantly, he accepted a plan from the large conservative 1992 and 1994 Classes of Republicans to adopt term limitations on the tenure of any committee chair excepting Budget (where a chair may serve on four out of six Congresses) and Rules (where the Speaker can waive the term limitation for a chair).  That plan was written into House rules during the 104th House and remained in place during the 110th, the first of the past seven to see the Democrats return to power.

    We designed a set of graphic tables to demonstrate the effect of this three-term rule.

Table 1.
House Republican Committee Chair Positions, 1995 to 2006

Committee 104th  1995-96 105th  1997-98 106th  1999-2000 107th  2001-02 108th  2003-04 109th  2005-06
Agriculture S Roberts V* R. Smith-Or.

S Combest----Combest

S Goodlatte-----Goodlatte

Appropriations V* Livingston-----Livingston

S Young-----Young-----Young

V* Lewis
Armed Services

S Spence-----Spence-----Spence

S Stump

S Hunter-----Hunter

Budget

S Kasich-----Kasich-----Kasich

V* Nussle-----Nussle-----Nussle

Education and Workforce

S Goodling-----Goodling-----Goodling

V* Boehner-----Boehner-----Boehner/V* McKeon

Energy and Commerce

V* Bliley-----Bliley-----Bliley

S Tauzin-----Tauzin/V* Barton-----Barton

Financial Services

S Leach-----Leach-----Leach

V* Oxley-----Oxley-----Oxley

Government Reform S Clinger

S Burton-----Burton-----Burton

V* T. Davis-Va.-----T. Davis-Va.

Homeland Security

-

-

-

-

V* Cox-----Cox/V* King

House Administration

S Thomas-----Thomas-----Thomas

V* Ney-----Ney-----Ney V*/ S Ehlers

Intelligence (Select Intelligence) S Combest

S Goss-----Goss-----Goss

V* Goss/V* Hoekstra-----Hoekstra

International Relations

S Gilman-----Gilman-----Gilman

V* Hyde-----Hyde-----Hyde

Judiciary

V* Hyde-----Hyde-----Hyde

S Sensenbrenner----Sensenbrenner----Sensenbrenner

Resources

S Young-Ak.-----Young-Ak.-----Young-Ak.

S Hansen

V* Pombo-----Pombo

Rules

S Solomon-----Solomon

S Dreier-----Dreier-----Dreier

V* Dreier
Science S Walker

S Sensenbrenner-----Sensenbrenner

S Boehlert-----Boehlert-----Boehlert

Small Business S Meyers

S Talent-----Talent

V* Manzullo-----Manzullo-----Manzullo

Standards of Official Conduct S N. Johnson S Hansen S L. Smith-Tx.

S Hefley-----Hefley

HefleyV*/SHastings

Transportation

S Shuster-----Shuster-----Shuster

S Young-Ak.-----Young-Ak.-----Young-Ak.

Veterans' Affairs

S Stump-----Stump-----Stump

S Smith-NJ-----Smith

SmithV*/V* Buyer
Ways and Means

S Archer-----Archer-----Archer

V* Thomas-Ca.-----Thomas-Ca.-----Thomas-Ca.

Data Source:  Compiled by authors; details are in Renka and Ponder (2004; 2005), or e-mail Russell Renka at rdrenka@semo.edu.

    Name entries are chairpersons of that Committee in that Congress.  If they carry over to a second or third Congress, the cells are combined to denote that.  V* to the left of a name denotes a violation of seniority with selection of that chairperson of that committee in that Congress.  That includes ad hoc extension of a sitting chair's tenure beyond the normal three-term limitation adopted by the House Republicans and written into House rules at the start of the 104th House in 1995.  V* to the right of the name denotes a violation against continuation of a sitting chairperson who is not yet subject to the normal three-term limitation on chairing that committee.  There is no violation when a term-limited chair departs after three terms.

    S denotes observance of seniority in selecting a new chairperson.  That's concentrated upon two Congresses, the 104th in 1995-96 and the 107th in 2001-02 due to adoption of the three-term limit plus Republican leadership eschewal of overturning a sitting chair before his or her tenure is concluded.  In other words, all newly selected chairs must be either or V*.

    There are 22 V* compared to 38 S decisions on the 60 occasions of choosing a new Republican chairperson.  That's a violation rate of 36.7 percent.  Two of those 22 violations were for waivers of the normal three-term limitation (with Dreier at Rules in the 109th House, and Goss at Select Intelligence in the 109th House).  The vertical line separating the 106th House (1999-2000) from the 107th (2001-02) demonstrates an increased incidence of V* decisions.  There are only 4 V* before 2001 compared to 26 decisions.  Even the vaunted disregard of seniority by Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich in November 1994 is obviously rather overrated, as those 20 decisions produced only 3  V* next to 17 decisions.  But after 2001, the count changes to 18  V* and just 12 decisions.  The incidence of violations is structurally induced with a six-year lag precisely coincident with term limitations going into effect.

    There were also 69 occasions with a carryover or non-term-limited chairperson.  Each carryover not subject to term limitations is signified by "-----" linkage of the chair's name.  How did they fare in terms of deference?  Very well indeed; there were just 3 right-side V* decisions compared to 66 decisions to retain the chairperson.  That's a violation rate of just 2.9%.  The House Republicans created the three-term limitation in 1995 for purposes of undercutting autonomy and power of seniority-based chairpersons. and that is a mission accomplished.  At the same time, the term limitation has induced a certain stability similar to the seniority observance of the House Democrats by creating an almost complete de facto granting of three terms to each standing committee chairperson.  Of the 3 exceptions to the grant that a chair serve out three full terms, two are the ousters of Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) from the Veterans Affairs Committee chair, and Joel Hefley (R-Co.) from the Standards of Official Conduct chair, by Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader DeLay at the start of the 109th House in 2005 (Cusack 2005; Urbina 2005; Allen 2005a, 2005b).  These are not regular institutional practices of House Republican leadership.  They are ascribed chiefly to the extraordinary micro-management of Majority Leader Tom DeLay before his own departure from the leadership and the House in 2006.

    The third case is the ouster of Bob Ney (R-Oh.) from the House Administration Committee on 15 January 2006.  Ney portrayed it as temporarily stepping down, but this was a Jack Abramoff-linked corruption case that ultimately sent Ney into resignation from the House and to the federal penitentiary (Schmidt and Grimaldi 2006).

Table 2.
House Democratic Ranking Minority Positions, 1995 to 2006

Committee 104th  1995-96 105th  1997-98 106th  1999-2000 107th  2001-02 108th  2003-04 109th  2005-06
Agriculture S de la Garza

S Stenholm-----Stenholm-----Stenholm-----Stenholm

S Peterson
Appropriations

S Obey-----Obey-----Obey-----Obey-----Obey-----Obey

Armed Services

S Dellums-----Dellums-----Dellums

S Skelton-----Skelton-----Skelton

Budget S Sabo

S Spratt-----Spratt-----Spratt-----Spratt-----Spratt

Education and the Workforce

S Clay-----Clay-----Clay

S Miller-Ca.-----Miller-----Miller

Energy and Commerce

S Dingell-----Dingell-----Dingell-----Dingell-----Dingell-----Dingell

Financial Services

S Gonzalez-----Gonzalez

S LaFalce-----LaFalce-----LaFalce

S Frank
Government Reform S Collins

S Waxman-----Waxman-----Waxman-----Waxman-----Waxman

Homeland Security

-

-

-

-

S Turner S Thompson
House Administration S Fazio S Gejdenson

S Hoyer-----Hoyer

S Larson S Millender-McDonald
Intelligence

S Dicks-----Dicks

S Dixon S Pelosi

S Harman-----Harman

International Relations

S Hamilton-----Hamilton

S Gejdenson

S Lantos-----Lantos-----Lantos

Judiciary

S Conyers-----Conyers-----Conyers-----Conyers-----Conyers-----Conyers

Resources

S Miller-Ca.-----Miller-Ca.-----Miller-Ca.

S Rahall-----Rahall-----Rahall

Rules

S Moakley-----Moakley-----Moakley-----Moakley

S Frost S Slaughter
Science

S Brown-Ca.-----Brown-----Brown

S Hall-----Hall

S Gordon
Small Business

S LaFalce-----LaFalce

S Velazquez-----Velazquez-----Velazquez-----Velazquez

Standards of Official Conduct S McDermott

S Berman-----Berman-----Berman

S Mollohan-----Mollohan/ V* Berman

Transportation S Mineta

S Oberstar-----Oberstar-----Oberstar-----Oberstar-----Oberstar

Veterans' Affairs S Montgomery

S Evans-----Evans-----Evans-----Evans-----Evans

Ways and Means S Gibbons

S Rangel-----Rangel-----Rangel-----Rangel-----Rangel

Data Source:  Compiled by authors; details are in Renka and Ponder (2004. 2005), or e-mail Russell Renka at rdrenka@semo.edu.

    There were 51 occasions for House Democrats to select a ranking minority member of a standing committee, and just one seniority violation V* took place.  That compares to 60 Republican chairing decisions in the same time span, with 22 of those 60 being subject to a seniority violation.  There is not a statistically or substantively significant difference between the parties in committee leadership turnover rate during these six Republican congresses.

    House Republicans use of term limitations is the main source of violations, and that’s the single main reason why Cann (2008) shows that the Republicans had an increasing nonobservance of seniority.  That has to be so when term limitations only kick in full time across these committees in the 107th House in 2001.  Cann said:

 “For many years, committee chairs have been selected on the basis of seniority.  Recent work has suggested that alternative factors, specifically financial support of party goals and party unity, have diminished the importance of seniority in committee chair selection. However, previous work has either failed to quantify these effects or has done so with inappropriate methods.  This paper argues for the use of a Bayesian conditional logit estimator to correctly model committee chair selection in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Results show a declining commitment to seniority throughout the Republican era and support the importance of fundraising as a determinant of committee chair selection.  This paper shows that two other factors, financial support of party goals and party unity, have essentially replaced seniority  as the central criteria for selecting committee chairs.” (Cann 2008, Abstract)

     Committee seniority certainly is no longer the only or the dominant criterion once a Republican chair spot opens up.  But openings themselves should be ascribed chiefly to term limitations, not to fadeout of seniority.  Deering and Wahlbeck (2006) shows that ability to contest for any opened chair is dependent on three things:  senior position on that committee, fund raising, and good orthodox standing in the party.  Committee seniority is still important for getting a contestant into the fight.  But once this strong left censoring produces a slate of active contenders for a chair, then both Deering and Wahlbeck (2006) and Cann (2008) show that committee seniority becomes unimportant whereas partisan fund raising and partisan orthodoxy both assume great importance in determining winners and losers.  That makes sense in the final stage, because contenders will vary greatly on two things (money raising, and orthodoxy) while the third one (seniority) only can vary a small degree among active senior contenders.  What is more, the term limitation invites two or three viable senior aspirants to jump in, but only one can carry the seniority-rights tag.  Thus Cann documents one party's structurally induced diminution of seniority in the second-stage decision of a distinctly two-stage process.

    But of course there was no such process with the House Democrats.  This might be due to the relative unimportance of choosing ranking minority members in lieu of committee chairpersons.  In that case, the 2006 midterm election provides a natural testing of that proposition.  We follow with two updated tables that illustrate the carryover to the 110th House, controlled by a Democratic majority.

Table 3.
House Republican Committee Leadership Positions,
104th through 110th Congresses, 1995-2008

Committee 104th  1995-96 105th  1997-98 106th  1999-2000 107th  2001-02 108th  2003-04 109th  2005-06 110th  2007-08
Agriculture S Roberts V* R. Smith-Or.

S Combest----Combest

S Goodlatte-----Goodlatte-----Goodlatte

Appropriations V* Livingston-----Livingston

S Young-----Young-----Young

V* Lewis-----Lewis

Armed Services

S Spence-----Spence-----Spence

S Stump

S Hunter-----Hunter-----Hunter

Budget

S Kasich-----Kasich-----Kasich

V* Nussle-----Nussle-----Nussle

S Ryan
Education and Workforce

S Goodling-----Goodling-----Goodling

V*Boehner-----Boehner----Boehner/V* McKeon-----McKeon

Energy and Commerce

V* Bliley-----Bliley-----Bliley

S Tauzin-----Tauzin/V* Barton-----Barton-----Barton

Financial Services

S Leach-----Leach-----Leach

V* Oxley-----Oxley-----Oxley

V* Bachus
Government Reform S Clinger

S Burton-----Burton-----Burton

V* T. Davis-Va.-----T. Davis-----T. Davis

Homeland Security

-

-

-

-

V* Cox-----Cox/V* King-----King

House Administration

S Thomas-----Thomas-----Thomas

V* Ney-----Ney-----NeyV*/S Ehlers-----Ehlers

Intelligence S Combest

S Goss-----Goss-----Goss

V* Goss/V* Hoekstra-----Hoekstra-----Hoekstra

International Relations

S Gilman-----Gilman-----Gilman

V* Hyde-----Hyde-----Hyde

V* Ros-Lehtinen

Judiciary

V* Hyde-----Hyde-----Hyde

S Sensenbrenner----Sensenb.----Sensenbrenner

V* L. Smith
Resources

S Young-Ak.-----Young-Ak.-----Young-Ak.

S Hansen

V* Pombo-----Pombo

S Young-Ak.
Rules

S Solomon-----Solomon

S Dreier-----Dreier-----Dreier

V* Dreier-----Dreier

Science S Walker

S Sensenbrenner-----Sensenb.

S Boehlert-----Boehlert-----Boehlert

S Hall
Small Business S Meyers

S Talent-----Talent

V* Manzullo-----Manzullo-----Manzullo

V* Chabot
Standards of Official Conduct S N. Johnson S Hansen S L. Smith-Tx.

S Hefley-----Hefley

HefleyV*/S Hastings----Hastings

Transportation

S Shuster-----Shuster-----Shuster

S Young-Ak.-----Young-Ak.-----Young-Ak.

V* Mica
Veterans' Affairs

S Stump-----Stump-----Stump

S Smith-NJ-----Smith

SmithV*/V* Buyer-----Buyer
Ways and Means

S Archer-----Archer-----Archer

V* Thomas-Ca.-----Thomas-Ca.-----Thomas-Ca.

V* McCrery

Data Source:  Compiled by authors; details are in Renka and Ponder (2004. 2005), or e-mail Russell Renka at rdrenka@semo.edu.

    House Republicans evidently did not change their ways while falling to minority status.  There were 69 left-side S and V* occasions to decide upon the new House Republican chairperson (through 109th) or ranking member (110th) of the 21 standing committees during these six Congresses.  Three of these were induced by ouster of a non-term limited chairperson.  Excluding those for consideration below, we get 40 instances where S was honored and another 28 with V* violations of committee seniority.  That's a modest seniority observance rate of just 59 percent.

    As with Table 1, the sharp divide of pre-2001 and post-2001 remains evident.  Before 2001 the acceptance rate for seniority was 26 out of 30, a robust rate of 87 percent.  But in 2001 through 2007, the 39 S and V* decisions resulted in only 15 favoring seniority, a rate of just 38 percent.  The transition to minority status in the 110th House did not curb the post-2001 pattern of disregard.  Of the 9 ranking positions not inherited by a carryover from the 109th House, 6 went to the non-senior candidates.  Evidently loss of importance of these positions does not change the institutionalized invitation to struggle created by term limitation standards.

    Despite House Republicans' loss of majority status, term limitations continue to produce an institutionalized tenure for Republican chairs and (presumably) ranking minority members.  Each carryover not subject to term limitations is signified by "-----" linkage of the committee leader's name.  Of 81 such decisions, only 3 occasions saw a non-term limited committee leader denied continuation in the position.  On 78 other occasions, the non-term-limited leader retained the committee leadership post.  Some 12 non-term limited chairpersons from the 109th House routinely became ranking members of the same committee in the 110th House.

    One might call the Republican deference to term-limited chairs "tenure deference" instead of strict seniority deference.  For once a chair is named, he or she retains the chair for three terms even though another member of the Committee may be more senior.  This is the case with James Sensenbrenner (R-Wi.), who formerly chaired two different committees but now sits as the most senior person without a ranking post on both of them in the 110th House.  He can bide his time for opportunity to arise again.  A term-limited former Chair may remain on the Committee awaiting the conclusion of someone else's tenure.  In the 110th House, onetime chairperson Don Young (R-Ak.) of the Resources Committee took up that Committee's ranking minority position after three terms waiting for the opportunity.

Table 4.
House Democratic Committee Leadership Positions,
104th through 110th Congresses, 1995-2008

Committee 104th  1995-96 105th  1997-98 106th  1999-2000 107th  2001-02 108th  2003-04 109th  2005-06 110th  2007-08
Agriculture S de la Garza

S Stenholm-----Stenholm-----Stenholm-----Stenholm

S Peterson-----Peterson
Appropriations

S Obey-----Obey-----Obey-----Obey-----Obey-----Obey-----Obey

Armed Services

S Dellums-----Dellums-----Dellums

S Skelton-----Skelton-----Skelton-----Skelton

Budget S Sabo

S Spratt-----Spratt-----Spratt-----Spratt-----Spratt-----Spratt

Education and the Workforce

S Clay-----Clay-----Clay

S Miller-Ca.-----Miller-----Miller-----Miller

Energy and Commerce

S Dingell-----Dingell-----Dingell-----Dingell-----Dingell-----Dingell-----Dingell

Financial Services

S Gonzalez-----Gonzalez

S LaFalce-----LaFalce-----LaFalce

S Frank-----Frank
Government Reform S Collins

S Waxman-----Waxman-----Waxman-----Waxman-----Waxman-----Waxman

Homeland Security

-

-

-

-

S Turner

S Thompson-----Thompson

House Administration S Fazio S Gejdenson

S Hoyer-----Hoyer

S Larson S Millender-McDonald-----Millender-McDonald/ S Brady
Intelligence

S Dicks-----Dicks

S Dixon S Pelosi

S Harman-----Harman

V* Reyes
International Relations

S Hamilton-----Hamilton

S Gejdenson

S Lantos-----Lantos-----Lantos-----Lantos/ S H. Berman

Judiciary

S Conyers-----Conyers-----Conyers-----Conyers-----Conyers-----Conyers-----Conyers

Resources

S Miller-Ca.-----Miller-Ca.-----Miller-Ca.

S Rahall-----Rahall-----Rahall-----Rahall

Rules

S Moakley-----Moakley-----Moakley-----Moakley/ S Frost-----Frost

S Slaughter-----Slaughter

Science

S Brown-Ca.-----Brown-----Brown

S Hall-----Hall

S Gordon-----Gordon

Small Business

S LaFalce-----LaFalce

S Velazquez-----Velazquez-----Velazquez-----Velazquez-----Velazquez

Standards of Official Conduct S McDermott

S Berman-----Berman-----Berman

S Mollohan-----Mollohan/ V* Berman

S Tubbs Jones
Transportation S Mineta

S Oberstar-----Oberstar-----Oberstar-----Oberstar-----Oberstar-----Oberstar

Veterans' Affairs S Montgomery

S Evans-----Evans-----Evans-----Evans-----Evans

S Filner
Ways and Means S Gibbons

S Rangel-----Rangel-----Rangel-----Rangel-----Rangel-----Rangel

Data Source:  Compiled by authors; details are in Renka and Ponder (2004; 2005), or e-mail Russell Renka at rdrenka@semo.edu.

    There were 56 occasions to change House Democratic ranking members (through 109th) or chairpersons (110th) of the 21 standing committees during these six Congresses.  Only two violations took places, one in the 110th House, with Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx.) prevailing over two more senior colleagues for the chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.  This case resembled the Republican leadership terminations of Smith and Hefley in that Speaker-elect Pelosi had well-documented personal and policy antagonisms with Rep. Jane Harman (D-Ca.), who was ranking minority member on Intelligence in the 108th and 109th House (Mazzetti 2006).  Harman was replaced by the third-ranking carryover committee member Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx.) despite his obvious lack of knowledge of foreign terrorist problems in the Middle East (Stein 2006; Starks 2006).

    The other V* case was the mid-year departure of Democratic ranking member Alan Mollohan (D-W.V.) from the House Ethics Committee (Standards of Official Conduct, officially) on 21 April 2006 amidst allegations that he had enriched himself through actions as a concurrent member of the House Appropriations Committee (Birnbaum 2006a, 2006b).  It is not clear that any seniority violation took place when senior appropriator Mollohan stepped out amidst intense scrutiny of congressional ethics in 2006, the year of Jack Abramoff; but his departure was certainly welcomed by the Democratic leadership faced with intense embarrassment at having Mollohan in a high-profile ethics policing position.  It is clear that Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Oh.) ranked immediately behind Mollohan but was bypassed for former Ethics ranking member Howard Berman, a trusted California confidante of House Minority Leader Pelosi.  Berman performed his duties and then gratefully returned to other work, yielding the chair in 2007 to Tubbs Jones.

    There were a handful of other leadership decisions that provoked controversy, but none aside from Harman produced an outright violation.  The closest may have been Rep. Colin Peterson (D-Mn.), a Blue Dog Democrat like Jane Harman, who became ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee in the 109th House.  He received some negative votes in the House Democratic Steering Committee, but the Democrats lack the Republicans' formal provision for inviting advance rivals of Peterson to make the case for themselves over him despite Peterson's committee seniority.  Peterson survived that 2005 threat and easily made it to the chairmanship in the 110th House in 2007.

    The Democrats' acceptance closely matches the Republican concession that once chairs are selected, they stay in place barring exceptional circumstances.  But Democratic tenures last far longer, as John Dingell at Energy and Commerce and several other Democrats will attest.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi is well aware of the potential hazard of having long-term autonomous chairpersons on her leadership's doorstep.  She quietly opted at outset of the 110th House not to overturn the House Republicans' decision to write the three-term limitation into the House rules (Schneider 2006; also preceding rules per Schneider 2005).  That brought some dissent from Dingell and other senior chairpersons, but they did not obtain sufficient grounds for overturning the rule (Hearn 2007; Weisman 2007).  To do so would require either a solid Democratic majority in caucus and on the floor to do that, or a significant portion of House Republicans to back such a change.  Given the substantial number of junior Democrats aiming to climb seniority ladders, the old bulls had no possibility of success within the caucus.  Needless to say, the latter was also not forthcoming.  In addition, senior chairman Barney Frank led the experienced and influential Massachusetts Democratic delegation in backing Pelosi's moves (Klein 2007).  Thus ended the brief uproar over Pelosi's adoption of term limitations.

    If the House Democrats retain a majority in the 111th House (2009-10) and the 112th (2011-12), and the 113th in 2013, then December 2012 will be a noteworthy month for students of the U.S. Congress to closely observe the majority party's organizational meetings.  There would be a sound of music, a scraping of chairs, and a new game in town that House Republicans already know well.  Musical chairs would be in vogue on both sides of the partisan aisle.

Discussion

    We take the approach that, before determining why committee seniority violations do or do not occur, one must first locate them in political space.  Since 1995 and more so since 2001, the active space has been almost entirely in one chamber (the House) and one party (Republicans) after its adoption of term limitations.  Others are reviewing violations to determine how committee chairs are chosen and why committee seniority is sometimes violated (Deering and Wahlbeck 2006; Becker and Moscardelli 2008; Cann 2008).  We think modeling must be highly sensitive to the structural opportunity for challenge to a senior aspirant by other plausible chair or ranking minority candidates.  Term limitations have worked extraordinarily well to bring about that opportunity.

    We also imply that the parties are quite different entities.  There is some tendency in the literature to treat them as two versions of one type.  For instance Becker and Moscardelli's recent analysis documents that chairpersons of the 110th House come heavily from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, just as "over time, Democratic committee leaders have been drawn increasingly from the left-most wing of the Democratic Caucus." (2008, p. 79).  But on House Republicans, "One pattern some may find surprising is that Republican House committee chairs in the 109th Congress were drawn almost equally from each wing of the legislative party." (2008, 79)  This assumes there are wings to the House Republican Party.  If so, there is little evidence that the wings are comparably sized left to right within the House Republican Conference, let alone between them and their counterparts in the House Democratic Caucus!  We show in a separate paper that moderates and liberals fare poorly in getting committee leadership posts with the House Republicans, but conservatives do fine because they present no threat of going across the line toward an enemy camp.  The Democratic liberal wing fares similarly well with the Democratic leadership and Caucus.  They are a significant management problem for Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, but they hardly present a threat to walk across the aisle to the other side.  Those Democratic liberals are quite far ideologically from the Republicans who preceded them (for example, see online: Charles Franklin, Political Arithmetik: Ideological shifts in House Committee Chairs, November 2006).  Having them chair committees is no collective threat to the party's distinctive name brand and identity; it is an asset.

Works Cited

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Allen, Mike.  2005b.  House GOP Leaders Name Loyalist to Replace Ethics ChiefWashington Post, February 3, 2005.  On line: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58884-2005Feb2.html.

Becker, Lawrence A., and Vincent G. Moscardelli.  2008.  Committee Leadership on the Front Lines:  Committee Chairs, Electoral Security, and Ideology.  PS:  Political Science and Politics, XLI:1 (January 2008), pp. 77-82.

Birnbaum, Jeffrey H.  2006a.  West Virginia Democrat is Scrutinized. Washington Post, May 15, 2006.  On line: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/14/AR2006051401032.html.

Birnbaum, Jeffrey H.  2006b.  House Ethics Panel, Justice Dept. to Run Parallel Probes Washington Post, May 19, 2006.  On line: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/18/AR2006051801933.html.

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Deering, Christopher J., and Paul J. Wahlbeck.  2006.  Determinants of House Committee Chair Selection:  Republicans Play Musical Chairs in the 107th Congress.  American Politics Research 34:2 (March 1006), 223-242.

Franklin, Charles.  2006.  Political Arithmetik: Ideological shifts in House Committee Chairs, November 2006.  Online:  politicalarithmetik.blogspot.com/2006/11/ideological-shifts-in-house-committee.html.

Hearn, Josephine.  2007.  Congress:  Pelosi Riles Old Guard Chairmen.  The Politico, January 22, 2007.  On line: www.politico.com/news/stories/0107/2411.html.

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Klein, Rick.  2007.   Mass. Delegation in Pelosi's Corner.  Boston Globe, January 30, 2007.  On line: www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/01/30/mass_delegation_in_pelosis_corner/.

Mazzetti, Mark.  2006.  For a Top Democrat, Further Climb Seems Out.  New York Times, October 24.  On line: www.nytimes.com/2006/10/24/us/politics/24intel.html.

Renka, Russell D., and Daniel E. Ponder.  2004.  Committee Seniority Violations in the U.S. House and Senate.  Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois, April 17, 2004.

Renka, Russell D., and Daniel E. Ponder.  2005.  Committee Seniority Violations in the U.S. House.  Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott Wardman Park, Omni Shoreham, Washington Hilton, Washington, DC, September 1, 2005.

Schmidt, Susan and James V. Grimaldi.  2006.  Ney Pleads Guilty to Corruption ChargesWashington Post, October 14, 2006.  On line: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/13/AR2006101300169.html.

Schneider, Judy.  2005.  House Standing Committee Chairs: Rules Governing Selection Procedures. CRS Report for Congress, RS21165, updated July 14, 2005. On line:  www.llsdc.org/attachments/wysiwyg/544/CRS-RS21165.pdf.

Schneider, Judy.  2006.  House Standing Committee Chairs and Ranking Minority Members: Rules Governing Selection Procedures, updated December 27, 2006.  On line:  www.rules.house.gov/Archives/RS21165.pdf.  Mother site is Congressional Research Service Reports, under "House Committees."  On line:  www.rules.house.gov/archives/crs_reports.htm.

Starks, Tim.  2006.  Newly Tapped Intelligence Chairman Plans to Focus on Iraq, Oversight.  CQ.com, December 1, 2006.  On line:  public.cq.com/public/20061201_reyes.html.

Stein, Jeff.  2006.  Democrats’ New Intelligence Chairman Needs a Crash Course on al Qaeda.  CQ.com, December 8, 2006.  On line:  public.cq.com/public/20061211_homeland.html.

Urbina, Ian.  2005.  Groups Protest Ouster of Veterans' Committee ChiefNew York Times, January 7, 2005.  On line:  www.nytimes.com/2005/01/07/nyregion/07smith.html.

Weisman, Jonathan.  2007.  Emerging Grievances Within Party Likely to Test Pelosi.  Washington Post, January 22, 2007.  On line:  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/21/AR2007012101016.html.

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