Snowe, Hatch Poised To Take Top GOP Slots On Major Committees In January

Lauren Victoria Burke/

Republicans didn’t pick up the Senate last week. But they did pick up six seats and will have several new members coming to town next year, which means the committees will be rejiggered — and the leaders of those committees will play the biennial game of musical chairs.

According to top aides, the reshuffling won’t be too dramatic this time around. On any particular committee, Democrats adhere to a seniority system to determine who moves up the ladder. Republicans let the members choose who gets the top spot.

With that in mind, here’s one likely reshuffling scenario.On the Republican side, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is likely to replace the term-limited Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) as ranking member on the powerful Finance Committee.

With Hatch in the top spot there, that leaves an opening at the Select Committee on Intelligence, where currently Hatch is number two, and retiring Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) is number one. Party leaders, rather than rank-and-file members, make the decisions on select committees and we’ve heard that it’s likely that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will give the ranking membership to moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who is next in line. Snowe voted against health care reform last year, endearing her to Republican leadership, and could face a tough primary challenge, and strong entreaties from the Democrats to switch parties, ahead of the 2012 elections.

If Snowe gets the nod, things get a bit complicated on the Small Business Committee, where she’s currently top member. Just below her is Bond (who, again, is retiring), and just below him is the infamous Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). Vitter’s been vying for a senior position on the Environment and Public Works committee, but his scandals create an optics problem for the GOP.

The Democrats’ majority will shrink next year — and so will the ratios of their majorities on committees. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) is reportedly interested in switching committees — from Budget, which will be all but powerless in a divided Congress, to Agriculture.

As chair of Agriculture, Conrad would be replacing current chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), who lost her re-election bid last week. The two men ahead of him on that committee — Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) — already chair the Judiciary and HELP committees respectively. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is in line behind Conrad to chair the Budget Committee.

The retirement of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) opens up the chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee, which is likely to go to Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD). That possibility has concerned progressives and federal watchdogs for some time because of his state’s close ties to the financial sector.