Will Progressives Get Screwed Over Again As Committee Assignments Are Handed Out?

With the loss of around a dozen conservative Democrats in the House, the composition of committees is going to change. There will be fewer Democrats and more Republicans on each committee. It is essential that when Pelosi and the Democratic steering committee decide the new composition of committees, reactionary Blue Dogs and New Dems NOT be put in position to band together with Republicans to sabotage progressive legislation.

Last Friday, Zephyr Teachout wrote that progressive policies face a committee structure that distorts democracy and favors corporate-backed conservatives. She noted that "A well-functioning democracy captures the public’s preferences in policy, yet champions of some of the country’s most popular ideas are underrepresented on the committees with the institutional muscle to push these through. For transformative change to take root in Washington, grassroots, working class, and marginalized communities subject to disinvestment must be represented on the A-list money committees. As Pressley reminded us two years ago, 'the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.' In the House, party leadership and seniority drive committee assignments. The roughly 50-member Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and operating under secret rules, compiles lists and votes on committee assignments. Every committee ranks members by seniority, and by custom, committee chairs are reserved for the more senior members."

Committee selection prioritizes party careerism and fundraising concerns over the real solutions people need. Progressives who do the painstaking work of democracy-- by organizing at the grassroots level-- gain the legitimacy that can only be conferred by popular will. That grassroots support ought to be the real political capital that determines committee membership and leadership. Instead, progressives are subject to an undemocratic process that views that support with suspicion.
To steer back toward democratic accountability, the House could immediately adopt new rules that deem it unethical to choose committee leaders and members based on fundraising prowess, as was proposed last year by Marian Currinder, a professional staff member on the Committee on the Modernization of Congress. This would help ensure that policy expertise, willingness to serve, and respect among one’s peers predominate as criteria for leadership.
But fundraising targets are only one component of a fundamentally undemocratic process. Because House leadership serves as chairperson of the Steering and Policy Committee, and carefully selects many of its members, committee selection too often reflects that person’s preferences. Instead of concentrating power in the hands of leadership, committee members themselves could choose their chairpersons, as Currinder argues, based on the credentials most relevant to that committee’s jurisdiction. Or the entire caucus could vote on committee leaders without the Steering Committee filtering nominees, and without the secret ballots that currently shroud the process.
Finally, the House might consider instituting term limits of 10 years for all committee leaders. Committee term limits already exist in some form. Democratic members of the Ethics committee, for example, can serve in a maximum of three out of five Congresses, whereas the Committee on Intelligence limits membership to four Congresses, according to the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. The exercise of term limits could ensure a healthy circulation of perspectives within the caucus-- and Congress as a body-- so that opportunities for leadership are available to members of all backgrounds and seniority levels.
Progressives are leaning into their transformative potential ahead of committee selection for the next Congress. Last month, the CPC approved new rules that will more closely align the caucus with policy goals, requiring members to vote as a bloc most of the time and sponsor a certain amount of progressive legislation. As Leah Greenberg and Ezra Levin, co-founders of the advocacy group Indivisible, argue in a recent commentary, the pledge to vote as a bloc means that progressives will need to be taken seriously early in the legislative process, when key discussions and amendments can either strengthen popular policies or dilute them with harmful concessions. Their empowered status as a cohesive voting bloc ensures progressives cannot be sidestepped in the governing process.
Still, the committee selection process must be more democratic, transparent, and accountable. Leadership should cede more of its decision-making power and do away with arcane and arbitrary rules and norms, such as barring freshman membership on certain committees, or insisting on the exclusivity of some committees, and reimagine committee criteria based on the needs of communities rather than the narrow interests of donors.
As we move to the next Congress, the stakes could not be higher. Facing climate catastrophe, a byzantine and cruel healthcare system, and an ever-widening wealth gap that stifles the dreams of millions, the people’s House should be more inclusive of those who carry the people’s voice. That starts with opening more committee doors to those who can drive real progressive change forward.

There were three committee chairs that needed filling-- 2 because the current chairmen, New Dem Eliot Engel (foreign affairs) and Blue Dog Collin Peterson (Agriculture), were defeated in their reelection bids-- and one because Pelosi puppet Nita Lowey (Appropriations) retired. Appropriations will be headed by another Pelosi ally, Rosa DeLauro, who beat out New Dem corruptionist Debbie Wasserman Schultz for the job. The other two committees will be worse because of the selection of <>Gregory Meeks for Foreign Affairs</> and David Scott for Agriculture.

As far as the committee compositions, even before Pelosi and McCarthy agree on the new proportions based on the election results, these are the Democratic vacancies for each committee:

  • Agriculture- 13 (including Marcia Fudge if Biden appoints her to HUD) out of 26

  • Appropriations- 3 out of 30

  • Armed Services- 5 out of 31

  • Budget- 8 out of 22

  • Education and Labor- 3 out of 28

  • Energy and Commerce- 4 out of 31

  • Ethics- 0 out of 5

  • Financial Services- 11 out of 34

  • Foreign Affairs- 4 out of 26

  • Homeland Security- 9 out of 18

  • House Administration- 1 out of 6

  • Judiciary- 2 out of 24

  • Natural Resources- 16 out of 26

  • Oversight and Reform- 15 out of 24

  • Rules- 2 out of 9

  • Science, Space and Technology- 15 out of 22

  • Small Business- 8 out of 14

  • Transportation and Infrastructure- 4 out of 37

  • Veterans' Affairs- 7 out of 16

  • Ways and Means- 1 out of 25

  • Intelligence- 1 out of 13

It's essential to replace members on Appropriations, Budget, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Rules, and Ways and Means with Democrats who are least likely to team up with the GOP members-- in other words, Blue Dogs and New Dems-- to defeat or water down Democratic Party priorities. We'll be watching next month when committee assignments are made.

5 of the 6 were kicked out by the voters. Schrader remains for now