Election season isn’t over … yet.
In both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for elections of their party’s respective leadership positions, committee chairmanships and ranking positions. While a lot of shifting is expected in the House because a new party is in charge, the situation in the Senate is becoming more interesting than you might expect.
Democrats will likely keep Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) in his position as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee. The ENR will be interesting to watch on the Republican side. First, there's this business of Republicans wooing West Virginia Senator-elect Joe Manchin with a committee spot. ENR would be the likely place for the West Virginian to end up, and Republicans would love to convince him to switch parties — not to mention the benefit of having another member on the committee from a coal state. Also consider this, if Republicans get Manchin, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson to switch parties, the Senate would be split 50-50. We'll get to Nelson in a moment.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee is interesting for another reason: Lisa Murkowski. The Alaskan is the current ranking member on that committee. Murkowski is currently awaiting a recount in her write-in campaign against Tea Party-backed Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams. A Murkowski victory could have repercussions for Republicans and energy legislation in general as I pointed out in a recent post.
The Murkowski and Manchin drama makes ENR fun to watch, but if it’s drama you want, the Environment and Public Works Committee is not for you. The committee shouldn’t experience too much change because chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) survived a challenge by Carly Fiorina. On the Republican side, James Inhofe (R-Okla.) — climate change denier and the committee’s ranking Republican member — isn’t going anywhere.
Another area to watch in the upper chamber will be the Senate Agriculture Committee. With Democrat Blanche Lincoln out of the Senate — thanks to the fine voters of Arkansas — the committee is out a chairman. The latest rumors are that North Dakota’s Kent Conrad may leave his post in the Senate’s Budget Committee to head the agriculture. But if the Democrats choose to go in-house with the chairmanship, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow is next in line to get the position. But this could get even more complicated.
Grist has already reported that Nebraska’s conservative Democratic senator, Ben Nelson, has his eyes on the post. Democrats may want to appease Nelson’s ambition, as he is reportedly a target of Republicans who want him to switch parties. The Agriculture Committee is an important committee to watch as it has wide jurisdiction over food, conservation, rural employment and several other environmental issues.
There's time for all of this to be sorted out — the new Senate and House won’t officially be seated until 2011 — but the drama is expected to continue in the coming weeks and days.