What Do the Elections Mean for Committee Ratios?

November 9, 2018

This week’s election results mean that the number of seats on Congressional committees will have to be renegotiated for the new Congress that takes office on January 3 – drastically for the House of Representatives, and slightly for the U.S. Senate.

House. Although ten races are still counting, Democrats should start the 116th Congress with between 235 and 240 seats in the chamber (between 54 percent and 55 percent of the seats). Traditionally, the majority party gives itself a one or two points greater share of total committee seats than they have in total chamber seats (the Rules Committee is always stacked more than two to one, and Ways and Means and Appropriations are so important that the majority party usually gives itself an extra couple of seats on those as well). For example, the last time Democrats took the chamber, after the 2010 elections, they held 53.6 percent of total House seats but gave themselves 55.3 percent of total committee seats.

The following table shows the initial totals for total House seats, total committee seats, and seats on the Appropriations, Ways and Means, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees for each Congress going back to the 94th (1975-1976). (T&I totals are for the Public Works and Transportation Committee from the 94th-103rd Congresses).

The main question is one of size. How big will Democrats go? In recent years, the Republican majority leadership has downsized both the T&I Committee and the Appropriations Committee – T&I, once the biggest committee in the House at 75 seats, now only has 61, and Appropriations dropped from a one-time high of 66 seats down to the current 52. The abolition of earmarks has made membership on both panels a lot less attractive than it used to be, but if Democrats bring back earmarks, Appropriations and T&I would each get a lot more popular.

If the T&I ratio from the start of this Congress is simply flipped, Republicans would have 27 seats next year and Democrats 34. At present, only 25 Republicans on T&I are returning to Congress next year, and two more (Denham (R-CA) and Woodall (R-GA)) may yet lose re-election as ballots are still being counted. But it is probable that no current T&I Republican members will be forced off the committee next year simply because of lack of space. (Some may leave because they get promoted to exclusive committees like Ways and Means or Energy and Commerce, and some may leave because the rules about being on too many committees at once get enforced more when you are in the minority.)

Meanwhile, 24 Democrats currently on T&I will be returning to Congress next year. Again, some of those (likely from the bottom half of the seniority list) may leave to get on exclusive committees, but Democrats should be able to get at least 10 new members on the panel next year.

Current House T&I Membership
Democrats Republicans
DeFazio (OR) Shuster (PA)
Norton (DC) Young (AK)
Johnson (TX) Duncan (TN)
Cummings (MD) LoBiondo (NJ)
Larsen (WA) Graves (MO)
Capuano (MA) Crawford (AR)
Napolitano (CA) Barletta (PA)
Lipinski (IL) Gibbs (OH)
Cohen (TN) Webster (FL)
Sires (NJ) Denham (CA)
Garamendi (CA) Massie (KY)
Johnson (GA) Meadows (NC)
Carson (IN) Perry (PA)
Nolan (MN) Davis (IL)
Titus (NV) Sanford (SC)
Maloney (NY) Woodall (GA)
Esty (CT) Rokita (IN)
Frankel (FL) Katko (NY)
Bustos (IL) Babin (TX)
Huffman (CA) Graves (LA)
Brownley (CA) Comstock (VA)
Wilson (FL) Rouzer (NC)
Payne (NJ) Bost (IL)
Lowenthal (CA) Weber (TX)
Lawrence (MI) LaMalfa (CA)
DeSaulnier (CA) Westerman (AR)
Plaskett (VI) Smucker (PA)
Mitchell (PA)
Faso (NY)
Ferguson (GA)
Mast (FL)
Lewis (MN)
Gallagher (WI)

Senate. The Senate sets up its committees differently than the House. In the Senate, committee sizes and ratios have to be set by a bipartisan agreement between the party leaders (in the House, the majority pretty much dictates the numbers to the minority). Since the chamber is so much smaller, committees are smaller as well. Ratios are negotiated in terms of how many more seats the majority has than the minority. At the start of the current Congress, the party ratio was 52-48, so the ratio on committees was set at +1 across the board.

In the upcoming Congress, the GOP is likely to hold between 52 seats (hold Mississippi, lose Arizona, lose Florida) and 54 seats (hold Mississippi, hold Arizona, take Florida). The last time the Senate opened with a 53-47 margin was the 112th Congress, and the majority gave itself a +2 advantage on some committees (Appropriations, Finance, Environment and Public Works) and a +1 advantage on others (Commerce, Science and Transportation). A 53-47 Senate was a lot farther back (the 97th Congress), but the blend then was also a mix of +2 on some panels and +1 on others.

Senate Party Ratios For the Last 40 Years
Full Senate Key Senate Committees
Congr. Maj. Min. Approp. Commerce EPW Finance
94th 62 38 16-10 12-6 9-5 11-7
95th 62 38 16-9 11-7 9-6 11-7
96th 59 41 17-11 10-7 8-6 12-8
97th 54 46 15-14 9-8 9-7 11-9
98th 55 45 15-14 9-8 9-7 11-9
99th 53 47 15-14 9-8 8-7 11-9
100th 55 45 16-13 11-9 9-7 11-9
101st 55 45 16-13 11-9 9-7 11-9
102nd 56 44 16-13 11-9 10-7 11-9
103rd 57 43 16-13 11-9 10-7 11-9
104th 53 47 15-13 10-9 9-7 11-9
105th 55 45 15-13 11-9 10-8 11-9
106th 55 45 15-13 11-9 10-8 11-9
107th 51 49 15-14 12-11 10-9 11-10
108th 51 49 15-14 12-11 10-9 11-10
109th 55 45 15-13 12-10 10-8 11-9
110th 51 49 15-14 12-11 10-9 11-10
111th 59 41 18-12 14-11 12-7 13-10
112th 53 47 16-14 13-12 10-8 13-11
113th 55 45 16-14 13-11 10-8 13-11
114th 54 46 16-14 13-11 11-9 14-12
115th 52 48 16-15 14-13 11-10 14-13

Even though the turnover rate in the Senate this election will be either 7 or 8 percent (depending on the Nelson recount), there aren’t a lot of departures on Senate committees of interest. Nary a single member of Appropriations, or of Environment and Public Works, retired or was defeated. Likewise, there were no retirements on Commerce, Science and Transportation and only one member (Dean Heller (R-NV)) has lost so far (with Bill Nelson still in jeopardy).

The Finance Committee vacancies have to be filled first. There are at least two, one on each side of the aisle (Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) are not returning and Bill Nelson may not return either). If an appropriations member is named to Finance, they have to leave Appropriations, and the new Finance members will also have to give up some of their other committee assignments. Then the rest of the panels will be populated.

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