In the Senate, 29 members with a staggering 557 years of seniority left office—due to deaths, appointments, retirements and election losses—between the beginning of 2008 and the 2010 midterm elections. By comparison, the entire Senate had only 1,042 years of experience at the beginning of this year. In the next Congress, there will be at most only 45 senators who were in office before 2011.
In the House, the turnover has been almost as dramatic. Next year, there will be at most 160 House members—barely a third of the body—who were elected before the 2010 midterms.
Many of the most senior members of the House are departing at the end of this year. With the retirement of Paul Ryan, Republicans will be electing their third speaker in three years (if they manage to maintain control). In addition to the speaker, of the 21 members who started this Congress as House committee chairmen, 10 will not be returning next year.
But it’s not just the party leadership. Back-bench tea party members are streaming out of the Congress, too. Of the 87 tea party members elected in 2010, nearly half have already left the House or have announced their retirements.Kevin Kosar at LegBranch.com
In the past, Congress responded to executive ascendance by strengthening itself. The 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act was a soup-to-nuts reworking of the legislature, and aimed to curb the executive branch, which had grown immensely during the Great Depression and World War II. The law swept away anachronistic legislative procedures and committee jurisdictions. Congress created a new process for budgeting, and reorganized the congressional committee system to empower its oversight of the executive. Recognizing that bigger government meant more to manage, Congress hired more staff to craft policy, oversee spending, and respond to public demands.
Two decades later, Congress again found itself supine before an “imperial presidency” that was out of control and out of touch with the public. So the legislature bolstered its power by expanding congressional capacity. It added to its corps of expertise by hiring more civil servants and tightening its power over the purse. The effects were immediate and positive, with great oversight efforts like the Church Committee’s exposure of domestic spying and other misdoings by intelligence agencies.
Congress’ last serious attempt at reform occurred in the early 1990s. Intra-Democratic party politicskneecapped the effort. When the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, they enacted reform of their own sort: they downsized congressional staff and centralized power in the speakership. The GOP also cut the budget of the Government Accountability Office and abolished the Office of Technology Assessment. With fewer civil servants to help it, our national legislature grew weaker vis-a-vis the president.