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Mike Enzi Decision Could Affect Budget Panel

Updated: 6:27 p.m.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has a decision to make that could cause a shake up on the Budget Committee.

With Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announcing this week that he is likely to be the new ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Enzi appears done as ranking member of that panel.

Enzi has seniority on the Budget Committee over current ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), but so far, he’s not saying whether he will seek to unseat Sessions, who just two years ago was pushed out as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Enzi’s office said he has made no decision and that it was premature to draw any conclusions, but did not rule out asserting Enzi’s seniority on the Budget Committee. Enzi also serves on the Finance Committee, but he does not have the seniority to take over from current ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

“Sen. Enzi will consider his options in regards to the individual committees,” an Enzi spokesman said.

But a GOP committee aide said Enzi has already deferred to Sessions, casting doubt that Enzi would make the move.

“Sen. Sessions has no greater friend than Sen. Enzi,” the aide said. “They’ve spoken and he graciously agreed to support Sen. Sessions for this next two year cycle as ranking member. “Sen. Sessions considers him a deeply valuable partner in fiscal reform and admires Sen. Enzi’s leadership in the Senate.”

GOP ranking members are chosen by members of the committee, but their decision must also be ratified by the Republican Conference.

Enzi could also become ranking member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, a spot that will be vacant because of the retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). The next Republican by seniority is Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), but he is likely take the ranking member spot of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Enzi or Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) would be in line for the Small Business post.

Along with the Budget and Judiciary committees, Sessions also serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee. He also serves on the Armed Services Committee, but Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who was term limited as EPW ranking member, is expected to take that post.

Alexander announced Thursday evening in a press release that he anticipates taking over at HELP. The release touted a HELP Committee hearing set for next week that will investigate a recent meningitis out break.

“In the new Congress, Alexander is likely to be ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is holding the hearing entitled ‘Pharmacy Compounding: Implications of the 2012 Meningitis Outbreak,’” the release said.

Enzi has served as HELP’s ranking member for six years, and spent two years as chairman. Republican rules say that a Member cannot serve as chairman of a committee for six years, plus six as ranking member. It’s unclear what the limits are on years spent only as ranking member.

But the prevailing wisdom is that Enzi will move on.

“If the Republicans had taken control of the Senate, [Enzi] could have been HELP Committee chair, but since he has served six years as ranking member, I believe he can’t keep that slot,” said Joel Packer, executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.

The Budget Committee ranking member position could also be attractive to Enzi, given that the panel is likely to be at the heart of the Congressional debate on fiscal issues.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is currently the Democratic Conference Secretary, is expected to be chairwoman of the panel, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may want to put in a new ranking member to counter act influence of Democratic leadership on the panel.

Alexander has the opportunity to become the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, sources said, but subcommittee assignments are still in flux. He is currently the ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.

Coincidentally, HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also heads the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

Lauren Smith and Paul Krawzak contributed to this report.

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