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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Congress' Permanent Minority?

Twenty-one years ago, Bill Connelly and I wrote a book about the House GOP's long bout of minority status.  As Paul Kane writes at The Washington Post, House Democrats are grappling with some of the same problems, including the conflict between young Turks and old bulls.
After another political drubbing in 2014 left them at their lowest point in 65 years, some House Democrats called for radical internal reforms to buck the seniority system and impose term limits on top committee posts, trying to instill new energy in their caucus.
Instead, after an intensive 10-month review, the task force that studied the issue has come up with a novel recommendation: Channel that energy into trying to defeat Republicans instead of turning on one another in what would be a brutal fight based along racial and generational lines.
“I would rather focus our time on getting the majority back. To me, that seems the most appropriate thing to do. The way to get more opportunities is to get the majority, not to go after each other,” Rep. Karen Bass (Calif.), who led the review process, said in an interview with The Washington Post previewing her report.
Bass, a third-term lawmaker who has never served in the majority, oversaw the 12-member team that reviewed the caucus’s rules and considered what, if any, changes to recommend.
What they discovered was a set of Democrats deeply depressed after losing 13 more seats in the 2014 elections, a third straight trip to the polls that left them in the minority and with no clear hope for winning back the majority anytime soon.

Like Bass, about 40 percent of the 188 House Democrats took office within the past five years and have never experienced life in the majority. It was this clutch of lawmakers that began to question why committees’ ranking Democratic members seemed so rooted in place, with no sign of turnover.
Conversely, senior Democrats turned on the newcomers, furious that they were trying to toss out the more experienced elders. Particularly angry were members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), who view the seniority system as key to power, given that many come from lower-income districts and cannot play the fundraising angles of some colleagues.