Friday, May 01, 2009

All is not happy in Reidland

The Hill reports that many senior Democratic senators are not happy with their leader, Harry Reid, for the deal he cut with Arlen Specter allowing Specter to maintain his seniority as he crosses the aisle. They don't want the 79-year old senator to jump the queue ahead of them when it comes to getting a possible chairmanship of a committee or subcommittee. This could theoretically be problematic if Senator Inouye, chairman of the all-powerful Appropriations committee were to step down and the next most senior senator, Pat Leahy, took his place. That would make Specter the most senior member of the Senate Judiciary committee. Do you think that Democrats want the guy who helped put Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Sam Alito on the Supreme Court chairing the committee as it considers President Obama's nominees. No way that that would happen. The nutroots' heads would collectively explode in one gooey, furious mess.

Meanwhile, there is the more arcane concern of who is ahead of whom in seniority on the committees. If Reid's deal holds up, there are going to be some very unhappy campers in Reidland.
“I won’t be happy if I don’t get to chair something because of Arlen Specter,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who sits on the Appropriations Committee with Specter and is fifth in seniority among Democrats, behind Chairman Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) and Sens. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa). “I’m happy with the Democratic order, but I don’t want to be displaced because of Arlen Specter,” she said.

Specter’s first full day in Washington after turning the Capitol upside down with his decision to switch parties suggested a lonely future awaits in the upper chamber.

While he received a formal welcome Wednesday to the Democratic Party at the White House from President Obama and Vice President Biden, senior Senate Democrats exchanged phone calls to voice their objections to Reid’s gambit and one lawmaker said Specter should be happy with a committee seat at the “end of the dais.”
How ironically poetic it would be if Specter has to go to the back of the bus with his fellow Democrats because Reid's deal won't hold up.
One senior Democratic lawmaker told The Hill that the Democratic Conference will vote against giving the longtime Pennsylvania Republican seniority over lawmakers like Harkin, Mikulski and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) when they hold their organizational meeting after the 2010 election.

Under his deal with Reid, Specter would jump ahead of all but a few Democrats when it comes time to dole out committee chairmanships and assignments.

“That’s his deal and not the caucus’s,” the senior lawmaker said of Reid’s agreement with Specter.

The lawmaker requested anonymity because the issue of Specter’s seniority is “a sensitive subject.” The lawmaker said it would be OK if Specter joined his panel as long as he “sat at the end of the dais” with junior members.
There is no way that Harry Reid is going to force senior Democrats to step aside for Arlen Specter. The caucus won't support that. Having that 60th vote is all well and good, but we're talking about their senatorial prerogatives and that trumps everything in the senatorial mind. So Reid will have to do some artful finagling.
Reid told reporters Tuesday that Specter, who plans to change his party registration to Democrat in May, would not bump any Democrats from plum committee posts this year or next. But Reid said Specter could invoke his seniority at the start of the 112th Congress.

“Of course, in a year and a half, at the start of every Congress, it’s a new game and Sen. Specter has seniority over a number of people on committees he wants to serve on,” Reid said.

An immediate question facing Democratic leaders is what to do with his current committee assignments.

By switching parties, Specter has given up his Republican-assigned seats on the Appropriations, Environment and Public Works, Judiciary and Veterans’ Affairs committees.

To claim a seat on the Democratic side, Specter would have to bump a sitting Democrat or get one to give up the slot....

Some Democratic senators want only to count Specter’s time in the Democratic Party toward his seniority in the caucus. That would place him behind Sens. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

Specter would still be more senior than Al Franken, who is expected to be seated as Minnesota’s junior senator later this year.
Most probably the Democrats will push through some rule change to add more members to committees rather than pushing someone off. The only question is whether the Republicans get a matching member. With the high-handedness that the Democrats have shown in leadership, an example of which would be putting the health care plan in the reconciliation process so they could bypass filibuster rules, it would not be a surprise to see them just add a Democratic seat without adding a matching Republican one. Republicans would probably do the same thing if they were in the same position.

And how sublime an outcome it would be to see Specter slide down the seniority scale so he is behind Senator Burris. The fruits of his switch would be lame indeed. Especially if a real Democrat defeats him in the primary.

It all evokes one of my favorite lines from A Man for All Seasons as Sir Thomas More confronts the traitorous underling who perjures himself to testify against More in order to get a minor position in Wales.
Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?
Why, Arlen, it profits a man nothing to give up yis party for the Democratic primary...but for the junior seat on the Environment and Public Works committee?