No one knows just what the 110 new members of the House will be like. But their sheer numbers are giving leaders grief as they try to work out committee assignments for the 103rd Congress. Defeats and retirements have left many panels decimated. The powerful Appropriations and Ways & Means Committees both lost about a third of their members. In the most extreme case, the Africa subcommittee of Foreign Affairs lost every permanently assigned Democrat.
Filling Appropriations and Ways & Means slots will be easy, though nearly all will go not to first-termers but to experienced lawmakers seeking better assignments. The House Steering & Policy Committee, which is working on assignments, may also recommend shrinking these megacommittees a bit. Many of the freshmen are making the Steering & Policy Committee's job a bit easier by requesting seats on such traditionally undesirable panels as Small Business and Education & Labor.
But the Banking Committee remains a major trouble spot. Bailouts and scandals have given it a reputation as a high-risk, low-gain assignment. Five of its seven subcommittee chairmen retired or lost, and many of its surviving members are likely to move on to more rewarding committees.
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