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:
Judiciary – Patrick Leahy (VT) 34 years
Foreign Relations – John Kerry (MA) 24 years
Appropriations – Daniel Inouye (HI) 46 years [+4 years in the House]
Budget – Kent Conrad (ND) 22 years
Homeland Security – Joe Lieberman (CT) 20 years
Environment & Public Works – Barbara Boxer (CA) 16 years [+10 years in the House]
Energy & Natural Resources – Jeff Bingaman (NM) 26 years
Health, Education, Labor & Pensions – Ted Kennedy (MA) 47 years
Armed Forces – Carl Levin (MI) 30 years
Intelligence Select – Dianne Feinstein (CA) 17 years
Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs – Chris Dodd (CT) 28 years [+6 years in the House]
Rules & Administration – Chuck Schumer (NY) 10 years [+18 years in the House]
Agriculture – Tom Harkin (IA) 24 years [+10 years in the House]
Veterans Affairs – Daniel Akaka (HI) 19 years [+13 years in the House]
Small Business & Entrepreneurship – Mary Landrieu (LA) 12 years
Commerce, Science & Transportation – Jay Rockefeller (WV) 24 years
Finance – Max Baucus (MT) 31 years [+3 years in the House]
Indian Affairs – Byron Dorgan (ND) 17 years [+11 years in the House]
Ethics Select – Tim Johnson (SD) 12 years [+10 years in the House]
Aging Select – Herb 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.