Politico's John Bresnahan has an interesting piece today, following up on Sen. Lisa Murkowski's stunning apparent loss in the Alaska Republican primary, about the decline in electoral clout of the pork-doling members of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
If Murkowski loses, half of the 12 Republicans on the committee will have been defeated or opted to retire this year. On the Democratic side, Sen. Robert C. Byrd died this year, Sen. Byron Dorgan is retiring and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, of course, lost a primary of his own. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is no shoo-in for re-election, either.
All these changes herald a vastly different committee makeup heading into the 112th Congress, which convenes in January. Committee ratios are determined at the start of each Congress and are based on the overall number of senators for each party. With Democrats almost certain to lose a sizable number of seats on Nov. 2, further turnover in the committee’s lineup is a certainty.
“This year, when you have this anti-establishment mood, it’s hard to get more establishment than being on the spending committee,” said Steve Ellis, vice president for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a government watchdog group.
In Murkowski’s case, her effort to cast herself as the heir to the late Ted Stevens legacy of funneling billions back to Alaska may have actually hurt.
Ellis said that lawmakers relying on earmarks and “bringing home the bacon” are no longer going to succeed when voters are concerned over government spending and trillion-dollar-plus deficits.
Though the changing ratio will mean fewer Democrats on the committee, there's likely to be at least one slot open. The question is: Will Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., make a run for it? I've heard some grumblings from Pennsylvania folks that he better, in order to try to retain some of the state's dwindling clout in Washington and bring home federal dollars. But will Casey look at the committee as a political albatross in 2012? He's been mum on the topic so far, but stay tuned.