House Democrats in Charge

December 27, 1990

Democrats in the Houses of Representatives took the unusual step of ousting two committee chairmen this month. Seniority almost always automatically determines chairmanships. But this year, for the first time in 16 years, more than one chairman was deposed -- and it was because of their seniority; they were regarded as too old to be effective.

They were also regarded as unresponsive to younger members and/or as poor advertisements to the public. Democrats want the public to think of the House as a vigorous, equal partner in running not only Congress (with the Senate) but in running the government (with the White House). Further evidence to suggest that younger House Democrats want to assert themselves in their own ranks and in governing the country is seen in the fact that three other chairmen were the targets of large protest votes.

Also, and this may seem trivial, but it isn't, the new Democratic mood of assertiveness is seen in changing the rules on designating "vice chairmen" of committees. This title used to go to the senior member of the minority party on each committee. Now it will go to the majority members ranking just below the chairmen in committee seniority. Republicans can't even pretend to be in charge of anything anymore.

Republicans face "total disaster" in the next Congress, House Minority Leader Robert Michel has predicted. He foresees Democrats using their tightened control to "use the House as a national campaign headquarters for their presidential hopefuls, in and out of Congress."

Actually there is another way to read these recent developments in the House. Democrats have given up their hopes of winning the presidency any time soon, and that is why they want their party to do a better job of running the House of Representatives -- and projecting to the public the clear message that they are totally in charge there. That would make it even more likely that voters would choose Democratic candidates in many congressional districts.

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