October 31, 2018
According to current polling, change is coming to the US House of Representatives. The question is, what kind of change? Discussion around who will take the majority has dominated the conversation, but what most people aren’t considering is the size of the incoming freshman class. This new class will fill the seats of current Members that are expected to lose, as well as the seats of the large number of retiring Members. So let’s explore this subject and what it means for those organizations and individuals that are “in the weeds” when it comes to Congressional Committees.
We have of a total of 68 current Members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, that have retired or announced their retirement. That is already 15 percent of the United States House that will be new. Now let’s consider the 29 current Members that are in “toss up” races (based on Charlie Cook ratings). If just 50 percent of those Members lose, that would be 15 seats in addition to the 68 retirements, meaning we are looking at a Freshman class of approximately 80 new Members, just over 18 percent. This is considered a conservative prediction– with the number of new Members potentially reaching into the 90s depending on what happens Election Day.
Setting aside the question of the majority for the moment, these retirements represent a total of 101 Committee vacancies (this does not include those members that left mid-term and have already been replaced). Broken down by Committee, here are the results:
|Agriculture||4||(1R / 3D)|
|Appropriations||4||(4R / 0D)|
|Armed Services||11||(5R / 6D)|
|Ed. & Workforce||6||(4R/2D)|
|Energy & Commerce||5||(4R/1D)|
|Ways & Means||7||(6R/1D)|
Now let’s consider the question of the majority. The Republican’s currently enjoy a 45 seat majority – that number will surely narrow significantly. Democrats need a net flip of 23 seats to win the majority in the House. At this point, our best guess is that the Democrats will gain control of the House with approximately a 10 seat majority (that would be a 33 seat pickup). Assuming that prediction is correct and the Democrats regain control of the House, we would be looking at a 116th Congress with a slim (<10 seat) majority. Referencing a useful Congressional Research Service study on House majorities, the last time either party had a narrow majority of this size was the 107th Congress, when the Republicans held a 9 seat majority. Now, let’s look at the Committee ratios from that Congress and see what we could expect in the 116th Congress.
|Current Ratio||Expected Ratio (w/10 seat majority)||Difference|
|Agriculture||26/20||27/24||from 6 to 3|
|Appropriations||30/22||35/29||from 8 to 4|
|Armed Services||34/28||32/28||from 6 to 4|
|Budget||22/14||24/19||from 8 to 5|
|Ed & Workforce||23/17||27/22||from 6 to 5|
|Energy & Commerce||31/24||31/26||from 7 to 5|
|Financial Services||34/26||37/32||from 8 to 5|
|Foreign Affairs||26/21||26/23||from 5 to 3|
|House Admin||6/3||6/3||from 3 to 3|
|Judiciary||24/17||21/16||from 7 to 5|
|Natural Resources||25/18||28/24||from 7 to 4|
|Oversight||24/18||24/19||from 6 to 5|
|Rules||9/4||9/4||from 5 to 5|
|Science Space||22/17||25/22||from 5 to 3|
|Small Business||14/10||19/17||from 4 to 2|
|Transportation||34/27||41/34||from 7 to 7|
|Veterans’ Affairs||14/10||17/14||from 4 to 3|
|Ways & Means||24/16||24/17||from 8 to 7|
|Select Intel.||12/9||11/9||from 3 to 2|
If the above ratios hold true for the 116th Congress, there will be a considerable number of Committee seats for the Democrats to fill. The interesting point is that given the number of Republican retirements and expected losses – many of the sitting Republicans on these Committees should be safe. For example, on House Armed Services, Republican retirements leave 5 vacancies (leaving 29 seated Republicans on the Committee). If the new ratio is 35/28 – Republican’s would only need to shed 1 sitting Member to meet their ratio. However, on the Democrat side their retirements leave 6 vacancies and the new ratio would be 34, meaning they would add a total of 12 new Members to that Committee. Although the math is different for each Committee, the general rule would hold – Democrats will have a significant number of Committee appointments to make and in many cases this will change the face and agenda of key Committees for the upcoming Congress.