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Senate Democrats expand power on key committees

Rosalind Helderman

Democratic senators pushed through new committee assignments today that expand their majorities on the chamber's most powerful panels, drawing protests from their Republican colleagues.

As we told you last week, Democrats decided to reduce the membership of the key finance committee from 16 to 15 senators, denying a seat to Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach).

Democrats, who outnumber Republicans 22 to 18 in the chamber, will now hold a 9 to 6 majority on the powerful money committee. They will likewise hold 10 to 5 majorities on the Education and Health and Courts of Justice Committees, the graveyards of much of the conservative agenda to the House of Delegates.

Republicans complained the changes diluted the power of the minority party and violated the collegiality of the senate. They said they had treated Democrats with more respect while in control of the body from 2001 until 2007, particularly in 2004, when their numbers rose to 24 seats. "No good deed goes unpunished," said Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg).

But Democrats said they had in fact used the math employed by Republicans in 2001, when they also held a 22 to 18 majority, as a model. In a speech on the senate floor, Senate Majority leader Dick Saslaw said new committees this year include, across all panels, six more Democratic seats than would be found if the committees were split at 8 to 7. In 2001, Republicans held seven more committees than would be found by dividing each panel 8 to 7.

"I think you'll see it's not as unfair as it's been characterized," he said.

Regardless, the upshot remains the same: Though the Democratic majority is a thin in the senate, through the committee structure, they are in total control of legislation that emerges from the chamber, as long as they remain unified.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  January 18, 2010; 5:23 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2010 , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate  
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