Van Hollen pursuing top Democratic slot on House Budget panel
Update 10:05 a.m.
With no obvious avenue to remain in an elected party leadership position, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen has set his sights on another prominent post -- the top Democratic slot on the House Budget Committee.
The move would provide a soft landing for Van Hollen, who appeared likely to be without a chair in the current Democratic leadership shuffle. It would also give him a voice -- albeit one with more stature than power -- in the upcoming debate with the new Republican majority over spending priorities and the nation's long-term fiscal health.
Van Hollen just completed two election cycles as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, picking up seats in 2008 and then losing in historic fashion in 2010. Though no one within the Democratic caucus appears to blame Van Hollen for last Tuesday's losses, and he has generally drawn praise for his stewardship of the campaign committee, Van Hollen decided not to make a play for another elected leadership job.
Instead he will pursue the ranking member post on the budget panel and has already been making calls to fellow Democrats to smooth the way. He made his campaign official Wednesday morning, releasing a letter asking colleagues for their support.
"Over the next two years we will be engaged in a critical debate over how best to strengthen our economy and move our country forward for all Americans," Van Hollen wrote. "The Budget Committee will be a central front in this national conversation about how to accelerate job creation and economic growth. This will not just be a fight over numbers. It is ultimately a debate about who we are and the future direction of our country."
Van Hollen is not currently a member of the Budget Committee, but he has developed a voice on fiscal matters through serving on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
The current top Democrat on the Budget Committee, Rep. John Spratt (S.C.), lost his reelection race last week. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), the current Budget vice chair, is backing Van Hollen rather than seeking the top job herself.
"Rep. Schwartz is supporting Mr. Van Hollen for ranking member and looks forward to working with him on the Budget Committee to continue to strengthen our economy and balance the federal budget," said Schwartz spokeswoman Tali Israeli.
No other competitors for the position have emerged.
Members of both parties who chair campaign committees are often rewarded with a plum assignment when they are done, and Van Hollen -- whose relatively wealthy district includes most of Montgomery County and a slice of Prince George's -- has been one of the party's most prolific fundraisers, earning goodwill by spreading donations around the caucus.
Van Hollen is widely known to desire a Senate seat, but neither Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) nor Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) appear to be leaving that chamber anytime soon. Van Hollen could eventually run for governor, but the competition would be fierce.
That means Van Hollen's long-term future could be in the House. But with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) likely to stay on as minority leader, Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.) angling to become minority whip and Rep. John Larson (Conn.) hoping to stay on as Democratic caucus chair -- unless Clyburn moves down a slot to challenge him -- Van Hollen has no clear leadership opening to pursue.
And as long as Hoyer remains at the top table, it might be difficult for Van Hollen to move up, since both represent the District's Maryland suburbs.
On the Budget Committee, Van Hollen would square off with incoming Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), a rising Republican star and "Young Gun" who has drawn praise for his intellect and criticism from Democrats for his controversial proposals to overhaul Medicare and Social Security.
"Our Republican colleagues have made clear their plan to use the budget process to provide a $700 billion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans by adding to our national debt and slashing education and other investments that are necessary for America to compete in the global economy," Van Hollen wrote in his letter Wednesday. "Other Republican proposals on Medicare and Social Security would jeopardize the health and retirement security of America's seniors. We must fight these upside down priorities at every turn. At the same time, we must offer a well-defined path to put our nation on a fiscally sustainable course."
The Budget Committee does not make actual spending decisions -- that task is left to the Appropriations panel -- but it does provide a forum for the two parties to present their opposing financial blueprints for the government.
| November 9, 2010; 9:22 PM ET
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