November 4, 2014 at 8:25 am ET
Even when the politicking of the midterm elections are over, some members of Congress aren’t done campaigning. Back in the Capitol, they keep lobbying their colleagues for a spot on desired committees.
That effort will get even more intense if the Senate flips to the GOP. The entire balance of the committee rosters will switch, with Republicans holding the majority of spots on each panel. It’s an arcane process, but it can affect the balance of power in the panels that write the most complex legislation.
Here’s how it works: Negotiations between the new Senate majority and minority leaders typically begin in the months after the election. They will work to cut a deal on the ratio of Republicans to Democrats on each panel. The majority party will get to have more people on the committee, but how many more? That is a decision that is historically determined by how big of a majority the winning party has. The bigger the majority, the more members they get to place on committees, according to the Senate Historical Committee.
The deal is finalized in an organizing resolution, which is put to vote in the Senate. If it passes, then the party ratios in each committee are set. If not, then it’s back to square one.
But what if the Senate is split 50/50? This happened in 2001. When the 107th Congress was sworn in, there were 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. Committees were split the same way, but then Vice President Dick Cheney got to pick the committee chairs.
But in June of that year, Jim Jeffords, a Republican Senator from Vermont, cut his ties with the GOP and caucused with the Democrats. That tilted the majority in favor of the Democrats, and due to a provision in the agreement, meant the Republicans were also ousted from their chairmanship positions in the committees.
Though Republicans are expected to win the Senate, a 50/50 split is possible. Check in tomorrow for more details on how the election has changed health, energy, finance and tech policy.