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Steering to Repay Donors

House Democratic leaders will look beyond their individual loyalties and reward party giving when they meet next month to hand out the minority’s few available elite committee assignments.

Key sources throughout the Caucus said when it comes to the plum positions, Democratic leaders will make good on the threats behind their months-long push to get Members to pay their party dues and show their seriousness about party participation. Leaders have even considered holding roll call votes on key committee placements, serving as a warning that Members need to participate if they want to keep or win powerful positions.

At stake in the 109th Congress — if committee ratios remain intact — are five open seats on two of the three exclusive committees (Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce) and three ranking member jobs. Leaders must also give out assignments to the 15 incoming freshman Democrats as well as scores of lower-level positions for veteran Members.

Senior-level Democratic sources say the Steering and Policy Committee, led by party leaders, will convene in early December to consider assignments. The full Caucus will then review and vote on the committee’s recommendations.

Leadership sources say Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and committee members will seek, more than ever, to reward “team players,” such as those who have contributed to the party and other Members. Pelosi will also stick to her principle of adding diversity to the panels, as well as a Member’s level of committee interest and expertise, leadership aides said.

“There are a lot of factors,” said one aide. “She will weigh them all.”

Another senior aide said leaders will most heavily consider how much money a Member has given and raised, along with the strength of his or her Caucus relationships and leadership loyalties.

“This place doesn’t operate and you can’t get anything done unless you have alliances,” said the staffer. “Those Members that haven’t taken advantage of building relationships in the right places usually find themselves on the short end of the stick.”

Key sources said that leading the pool for the two open Ways and Means positions are: Reps. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), Shelley Berkley (Nev.), John Larson (Conn.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Bill Pascrell (N.J.), Ron Kind (Wis.), Bob Etheridge (N.C.) and Brad Sherman (Calif.).

Both Emanuel and Crowley have also been mentioned as possible successors to Rep. Robert Matsui (Calif.) as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. If either or both of those Members were to win a Ways and Means slot, they would almost assuredly be taken out of consideration for the DCCC post, leaving Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.) as the clear frontrunner.

Thompson has been considered Pelosi’s top pick for the job, assuming Matsui holds to his private indications that he plans to step down after the Dec. 4 Louisiana runoff.

Senior Caucus sources say Emanuel, one of the party’s most prolific fundraisers and contributors, is most likely to nab one of the two Ways and Means openings. The other remains in question since most of the other Members in the running have met or surpassed their party dues this cycle, and most represent key constituency or ideological groups within the Caucus.

As for Energy and Commerce, well-placed aides said the leading Members for available three positions are: Reps. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Jay Inslee (Wash.), Mike Ross (Ark.), James Langevin (R.I.), Jim Matheson (Utah) and Joe Baca (Calif.).

One aide suggested Baldwin, also a top party fundraiser, is a “shoo-in” for one of the openings, while Ross is a heavy favorite for another. Ross is also a key party fundraiser, moderate Member and Pelosi ally. The third slot is less clear, but sources throughout the Caucus suggested Blue Dog conservative Matheson or Inslee are likely choices.

Matheson, who held onto a key seat in the red state of Utah, could benefit from a powerful position in Congress to secure his re-election chances, sources said. Inslee, on the other hand, is a top party participant and has expressed a strong interest in alternative energy projects.

There are no Democratic openings in the 109th Congress on the third exclusive committee, Appropriations.

Beyond the exclusive committee positions, House leaders also must assign three ranking member jobs. Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) is expected to succeed outgoing Rep. Martin Frost (Texas) on Rules, while Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) will get the nod for the Homeland Security panel to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Turner (Texas).

In question is whether leaders will decide to give Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.) the job as ranking member on Agriculture, succeeding Rep. Charlie Stenholm (Texas). Peterson is expected and has been actively lobbying to win the slot, but has some opposition within the Caucus for failing to pay party dues and voting against the party.

Sources indicate Peterson’s ascent will lead to some heavy discussion in both the Steering Committee and full Caucus.

While the Steering panel doesn’t meet for another week, Members have been gunning for those positions for months. Leaders and Steering Committee members have received dozens of letters and phone calls in recent days from campaigning lawmakers.

“It’s going to be very interesting,” suggested one knowledgeable Democratic source.

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