The Shock of the Not New

It was, of course, inevitable that after a general election, political observers would be talking about everything in Washington suddenly being new. A new president(-elect), a new administration, a new New Mexico corruption scandal; none of this comes as a surprise. What is interesting, however, is that some people are also referring to the “new leadership” in Congress.

Now, as we all know, leadership positions in Congress are often based on seniority, especially in that plush assisted living community known as the U.S. Senate. This means that in order to climb your way to the top of the mountain and become a committee chair, it takes time. The faces you’ll see presiding over hearings during the 111th Congress will generally be the same ones that have been frightening small children in our nation’s capital for decades.

So, just for the record, lets take a look at some of the dewy-eyed youngsters who will be running things in the 111th and how long they’ve been avoiding getting real jobs:

JudiciaryPatrick Leahy (VT) 34 years
Foreign RelationsJohn Kerry (MA) 24 years
AppropriationsDaniel Inouye (HI) 46 years [+4 years in the House]
BudgetKent Conrad (ND) 22 years
Homeland SecurityJoe Lieberman (CT) 20 years
Environment & Public WorksBarbara Boxer (CA) 16 years [+10 years in the House]
Energy & Natural ResourcesJeff Bingaman (NM) 26 years
Health, Education, Labor & PensionsTed Kennedy (MA) 47 years
Armed ForcesCarl Levin (MI) 30 years
Intelligence SelectDianne Feinstein (CA) 17 years
Banking, Housing & Urban AffairsChris Dodd (CT) 28 years [+6 years in the House]
Rules & AdministrationChuck Schumer (NY) 10 years [+18 years in the House]
AgricultureTom Harkin (IA) 24 years [+10 years in the House]
Veterans AffairsDaniel Akaka (HI) 19 years [+13 years in the House]
Small Business & EntrepreneurshipMary Landrieu (LA) 12 years
Commerce, Science & TransportationJay Rockefeller (WV) 24 years
FinanceMax Baucus (MT) 31 years [+3 years in the House]
Indian AffairsByron Dorgan (ND) 17 years [+11 years in the House]
Ethics SelectTim Johnson (SD) 12 years [+10 years in the House]
Aging SelectHerb Kohl (WI) 20 years

According to my rough calculations, that makes 479 years worth of, um, experience among the current Senate committee chairs. If we expand that to include total Congressional tenure, we bump the total up to 564 years. This is, of course, not counting years spent as Lieutenant Governor, State Tax Commissioner or Municipal Animal Control Supervisor.

If you’re one of those sentimental people who thinks institutional memory is important, then you may very well be happy with this state of affairs. Whatever else it is, though, “new” it most definitely is not.