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Several Eye Ways and Means Slot

As speculation swirled Monday in New York’s 21st district over who will succeed retiring Rep. Mike McNulty (D), Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill similarly eyed the vacancy that the 10-term lawmaker will leave at the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

McNulty announced on Monday that he will retire at the end of the 110th Congress, making available a seat on the exclusive Ways and Means panel as well as freeing up the gavel of the tax panel’s Social Security Subcommittee.

But more than a year before Democrats must fill the post, many Members and aides are hesitant to discuss the potential candidates.

A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to discuss the would-be seat, stating: “The Steering Committee will not make decisions on this vacancy until the appropriate time at the beginning of the new Congress.”

Nonetheless, Democratic sources agreed on several likely contenders for the soon-to-be empty seat, including Reps. Elijah Cummings (Md.) and Bob Etheridge (N.C.).

In his seventh term, Cummings now presides over the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, but sources suggest he would be willing to forgo that post for a seat on Ways and Means. Cummings also serves on the Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform panels. He could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Democrats also name Etheridge, in his sixth term, a likely candidate, citing his work on legislation aimed at school construction. In addition, the North Carolina lawmaker could assert a geographical claim, since no Tar Heel lawmakers from either party currently serve on the panel.

Although Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) was viewed as a contender for the Ways and Means panel earlier this year, the Florida lawmaker snagged the chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch and is unlikely to give up that cardinal post.

Other Democrats with potential claims to the Ways and Means seat include Rep. Charlie Melancon (La.), who also could attempt a geographical claim on the committee — an argument Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) himself invoked prior to his suspension from the panel — although Republican Rep. Jim McCrery (La.) serves as the panel’s ranking member.

But Melancon also would have to forgo his current seat on the Energy and Commerce panel and possibly his slot on the Science and Technology Committee.

Under Democratic Caucus rules, Members assigned to “exclusive” panels — Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Appropriations and Financial Services — are prohibited from serving on another panel unless they are granted a waiver to do so.

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), whose current assignments include the Budget, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Science and Technology panels, could also be a contender for the Ways and Means seat. Although Baird publicly split from Democratic leaders over the Iraq War earlier this year following a visit to the region, sources said it is unlikely that would affect his ability to win the assignment.

While numerous junior Democrats have also expressed interest in the seat, one Democratic observer suggested that newly elected Rep. Laura Richardson (Calif.) — who won a special election to replace the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald — could be a contender for the committee, despite the presence of five Californians already assigned to the panel.

A spokeswoman for Richardson said, “Yes, she is interested in the Ways and Means Committee.”

Democrats filled several long-standing requests for seats on the exclusive panel at the start of the 110th Congress with their return to the majority — adding eight seats and bringing their share of the panel to 24 members.

Those Democrats who joined the panel in the 110th Congress are Reps. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Ron Kind (Wis.), Bill Pascrell (N.J.), Shelley Berkley (Nev.), Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Kendrick Meek (Fla.) and Allyson Schwartz (Pa.).

Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.) also received a provisional seat on the committee, created when Democratic leaders elected to place Jefferson on “suspension” from the panel because he is the focus of a Justice Department corruption probe.

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