Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times takes note today, as we here at Open Market did last week, of the staggering age and, ahem, “experience” of the 110th Congress’ new committee chairmen. When returning House Energy & Commerce Committee chair John Dingell was first elected to Congress, for example, the birth of his House colleague Patrick McHenry (R-NC) was still 20 years in the future. Reynolds also diplomatically makes reference to Dingell’s hard-earned reputation for being (as Henry Miller has pointed out) imperious and rude as chairman:
When Rep. John D. Dingell was new to Congress, Buddy Holly ruled the charts, Rosa Parks refused to budge from her seat on a segregated bus and Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the White House.
And on Capitol Hill, congressional committee chairmen ruled like feudal lords over federal policy, pursuing pet causes and waging vendettas.
In time, Dingell became one of the most fearsome.
For 14 years, Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, presided over the Energy and Commerce Committee. Under his leadership, the panel expanded into an empire that claimed jurisdiction over “everything that moves, burns or is sold” in the United States.
It was in part because of the reputation of longtime chairmen like Dingell that former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led the Republican insurgency that took control of Congress in 1995, imposed term limits for committee chairs, restricting them to three consecutive two-year terms.
And Dingell’s not the only cranky octogenarian assuming control over an important committee. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the 89-year old former Klansman who tried to filibuster the 1964 Civil Rights Act, is going to be the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Stand by to witness a torrent of federal spending rapidly redirected to the Mountain State.