Committee Chairs Will Shift No Matter Which Party Controls Congress

Others have already been ousted or will be turning over their gavels. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., who faced a strong GOP challenger this year, announced his retirement in May and will leave his perch atop the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., who oversees Commerce and Justice Department funding, lost his primary election in May.

The two departures put a dent in the traditional thinking that Appropriations Committee members, who control spending, can cruise to re-election by directing federal funds to their districts.

"Whatever reputation the appropriations committee had for providing the sustenance for eternal political life is a little outdated at this moment," said Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation.

Minority parties have picked off senior committee chairpersons in the past, particularly in "wave" elections. In 1994, the GOP beat then-House speaker Tom Foley of Washington and House Judiciary Committee chairman Jack Brooks of Texas. When Democrats gained control in 2006, they did so by defeating Resources Chairman Richard Pombo of California.

But Martin Frost, a former House Democratic campaign chairman, said he does not see a similar fate for committee leaders this year because they're better prepared. "They understood early that they had real contests," he said. "They're going to have tough races, but I think they're going to be fine."

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