Unlikely Committee Scenarios

Sleepy Hollow Farm, Vermont (cc photo by snapstermax)

Sleepy Hollow Farm, Vermont (cc photo by snapstermax)

So far this year, Chris Dodd has been basically double-fisting as head of both HELP and Banking, but with Ted Kennedy now dead he needs to choose between them which sets off various musical chairs scenarios. My understanding is that he’ll almost certainly take the helm at HELP, since he wants to distance himself from some of his work on bank regulation and score a legacy-building win on health care. But if not:

If Dodd doesn’t leave Banking, then HELP would go to Iowa’s Tom Harkin, who would have to give up his post as Chairman of the Agriculture Committee to take it. The next most senior members of the Ag Committee are Leahy, Conrad and Baucus, all of whom chair more important committees. So Ag would probably go to Blanche Lincoln. If Harkin stays put — and he is an Iowan, so chairing Ag is worth something to him — then HELP would go to Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski.

Not only will Dodd probably leave Banking, if he did choose to stay Harkin would almost certainly not give up Agriculture. And even if Harkin did give up Agriculture, Leahy probably wouldn’t give up Judiciary. But in the unlikely event that all this did happen and Pat Leahy became chair of the Agriculture Committee, the results would be potentially hilarious. After all, we’re used to agriculture policy being completely dominated by the interests of the big midwestern corn producers. But what if we instead redirected all that money into massive subsidies for maple syrup and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? The public health consequences could be dire. At the same time, I believe Vermont is a major center of artisanal cheese production and the results of more subsidies for that could be delicious.

Part of the larger moral of the story here is that one of the perverse aspects of the committee system is that it encourages progressive politicians to maximize their power on the issues where they take the least-progressive stands. I agree with Tom Harkin about almost everything except agricultural policy. And Chris Dodd has a much better record on all the issues that aren’t financial institution regulation than on the issue he has the most power over. If you just reassigned everyone at random, you’d probably improve outcomes.