Key retirements mean a changing of the guard next year in U.S. Congress

February 3, 2014

Regardless what voters decide in the November elections, there will be a major changing of the guard next year in the U.S. Congress as result of a number of key retirements.

Those stepping down rather than seeking another term include five Senate Democratic chairmen with plenty of institutional power and knowledge on matters particularly important to President Barack Obama, such as healthcare, taxes, trade, labor and defense.

Also leaving are two top Democratic liberals in the House of Representatives – George Miller and Henry Waxman, both of California and allies of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) addresses the Reuters Washington Summit in the Reuters newsroom in Washington, November 9, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Among the Republicans calling it quits is Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, founder and chair of the congressional Tea Party Caucus who made a failed 2012 White House bid.

Other retiring Republicans include: Representative Buck McKeon of California, the outgoing chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Representative Frank Wolf of Virginia, a co-chair the House’s bipartisan Human Rights Commission.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma will likely be the Republican who Obama misses most.

In a divided Washington, Coburn and Obama are friends, a relationship that dates back to 2004 when they arrived together as newly elected senators and went on to find ways to work together.

Overall, retirees include 12 of Obama’s fellow Democrats, five in the Senate and seven in the House, along with 13 Republicans, 10 in the House and three in the Senate.

On Election Day, Republicans are expected to retain control of the House.

But Democrats may lose the Senate – largely because of the retirements of five committee chairmen, all of whose seats are seen as up for grabs.

These chairmen include: Tom Harkin of Iowa, head of Health, Education and Labor Committee; Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, head of the Commerce Committee; Tim Johnson of South Dakota, head of the Banking Committee; Carl Levin of Michigan, head of the Armed Services Committee, and Max Baucus of Montana, head of the Finance Committee.

James Thurber of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, said, “Many of those leaving are solid people who know the process, know how to get things done, are trusted.”

While they will be missed, Thurber said, “They may eventually be replaced by people who are even better. I don’t know. Time will tell.”

Abbe Gluck, a Yale law school professor who teaches a course on the legislative process, says in the Senate the retirements may mean a changing of the guard as well as a changing of the culture to less collegial and more hostile.

“The fear is that, in this political climate, whoever replaces them will have interests aligned more with the highly-partisan politics of the moment than in preserving for the long term the Senate’s special role in our government,” Gluck said.

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