Sen. Fritz Hollings’ (S.C.) departure from Congress in 2005 will open up some plum committee spots for Senate Democrats in the 109th Congress.
The 81-year-old Hollings, who announced last week that he will not seek re-election in 2004, currently is the ranking member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; the ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the judiciary; and the second-ranked Democrat on the Budget Committee.
Those coveted positions are likely to be seized by other veteran Democratic lawmakers, but the prime committee vacancies left by Hollings on Appropriations and Commerce could benefit a few lower-ranking Democrats as well.
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is first in line to replace Hollings as top Democrat on the Commerce panel. A spokeswoman for Inouye would not confirm that the seven-term Senator would definitely take the Commerce position once it opens up, saying Inouye has not yet announced his plans.
In order to take over the powerful position with oversight of the telecommunications, technology, aerospace and transportation industries, Inouye would have to give up his ranking member status on the Indian Affairs Committee.
That scenario could give fellow Hawaiian Daniel Akaka a chance to become the top Democrat on Indian Affairs, assuming Budget ranking member Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who outrank Akaka on the panel, take a pass.
If Inouye declines to take the top spot at Commerce, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) followed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) are next in line. Rockefeller is the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, while Kerry is ranking member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, which is less powerful than Commerce.
On Appropriations, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would likely have first pick to switch from being ranking member on the subcommittee on foreign operations to taking over the Democratic helm of the Commerce, Justice, State and the judiciary panel.
Leahy spokesman David Carle declined to say whether the Senator will swap panels, but the ability to have some control of spending at the Justice Department could be extraordinarily tempting for him. Leahy already oversees Justice operations from his ranking member spot on the Judiciary Committee.
Leahy’s ability to take over the CJS Appropriations subcommittee could be complicated if higher-ranking members of the Appropriations panel, such as Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) or Inouye, decided to change their subcommittee ranking memberships. Byrd serves as the top Democrat on the newly created subcommittee on Homeland Security, while Inouye reigns on the subcommittee on Defense.
Regardless of Leahy’s decision, the need to fill the top Democratic spot on the CJS panel will undoubtedly create a ripple effect on most of the 13 Appropriations subcommittees, as other Democrats on the panel jockey for the most influential slots.
Hollings’ exit also could give Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) the opportunity to reclaim the lowest-ranking Democratic Appropriations seat. Reed had to relinquish that spot this year when Democrats returned to the Senate minority following their 2002 midterm election defeats.
A Reed spokesman confirmed that the Senator expects to be reinstated to the panel, but noted that “nothing’s for sure.”
Because the Budget panel does not have subcommittees, the vacancy created by Hollings’ departure will only help a more junior Democrat. Like Reed, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) had to give up her Budget Committee spot in the 108th Congress, and therefore would be the most likely candidate to replace Hollings.
The Commerce Committee also will have a low-ranking vacancy, but no one was forced off the panel this year. So it appears that the spot will be up for grabs to the highest-ranking Democrat who wants it.