Democrats, Repub­li­cans flip roles in U.S. House

Duffy serv­ing in mi­nor­ity party for first time in his ten­ure

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Front Page - Craig Gil­bert Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - WIS­CON­SIN

WASH­ING­TON - Af­ter spend­ing the past eight years in the mi­nor­ity, Demo­crat Gwen Moore of Mil­wau­kee has some­thing to rel­ish.

Her party is now in con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. And she’s about to ful­fill a dream of serv­ing on one of the most pow­er­ful bod­ies in Congress.

“It is a big deal,” said Moore. “Be­ing in the mi­nor­ity has de­nied me the one thing that I have wanted since I got here in 2005. That was to be on the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee. It’s the ju­ris­dic­tion un­der which so many is­sues I care about and are im­por­tant are han­dled.”

Moore men­tioned child care, wel­fare re­form, taxes, en­ti­tle­ments, trade and the min­i­mum wage, for starters.

The 2018 elec­tion has turned things up­side down for Wis­con­sin’s eight U.S. House mem­bers and al­tered how the state’s in­ter­ests will be served in Wash­ing­ton.

One of the most ob­vi­ous changes: The state’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion lost one of the most pow­er­ful politi­cians on the planet with the re­tire­ment of Repub­li­can Speaker Paul Ryan.

An­other: While Wis­con­sin still has five House Repub­li­cans and three House Democrats, their roles are re­versed, with Repub­li­cans rel­e­gated to the of­ten sti­fling role of House mi­nor­ity party and Democrats sud­denly em­pow­ered.

Repub­li­can Sean Duffy, who got elected in the GOP wave elec­tion of 2010, has never served in the mi­nor­ity.

“I haven’t re­ally got­ten to ex­pe­ri­ence it yet. We might talk in three more months and I might be re­ally up­set,” said Duffy, whose first taste of life in the mi­nor­ity has been dom­i­nated by a par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down, with the Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity pass­ing bills — to re­open shut­tered fed­eral de­part­ments —

that Se­nate Repub­li­cans have re­fused to take up.

Though they num­ber only three and none has high se­nior­ity, Wis­con­sin’s House Democrats will be strate­gi­cally placed in one re­gard. Two will serve on Ways and Means, the pow­er­ful panel that deals with taxes and en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams. Ron Kind of La Crosse was a mem­ber al­ready. And with Democrats pick­ing up added com­mit­tee seats as the ma­jor­ity party, Moore has been tapped to fill one of them.

The city of Mil­wau­kee hasn’t been rep­re­sented on the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee since Demo­crat Jerry Klezcka served more than a decade ago.

“It was very, very frus­trat­ing, year in and year out, to not be able to make progress on things … like health care, like pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, com­mon-sense gun safety,” Moore said of her time in the mi­nor­ity.

The state’s third House Demo­crat,

Mark Po­can, sits on the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, which writes spend­ing bills. The two ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tees he serves on —agri­cul­ture and the sub­com­mit­tee that deals with la­bor, health and hu­man ser­vices and ed­u­ca­tion — con­trol more than half the fed­eral money that goes to the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin, he said.

“It feels great. Also, it feels like it’s go­ing to be a lot more work,” said Po­can, call­ing that a good thing. Elected in 2012, Po­can has never been in the ma­jor­ity.

Mem­bers of the mi­nor­ity have choices to make about how to stay rel­e­vant, he said.

“You’re kind of in some ways in an op­po­si­tion role . ... You also choose what role you want. If you just want to throw grenades you can do it. If you just want to try to get things done, you can do that,” Po­can said.

“The ma­jor­ity party has the keys to the car,” he said. When you’re in the mi­nor­ity, “you’re no longer in the front seat of the car, you’re in the back seat and oc­ca­sion­ally you might be rid­ing from the trunk.”

Repub­li­can Jim Sensen­bren­ner of Menomonee Falls is the sec­ond long­est-serv­ing mem­ber of the House.

He has spent roughly half his 40 years in Congress in the mi­nor­ity (1979 to 1994 and 2007 to 2010) and roughly half in the ma­jor­ity (1995 to 2006 and 2011 to 2018).

“I can throw more bombs. There are con­se­quences in the ma­jor­ity when you throw bombs. Not ev­ery­one ap­pre­ci­ates it. But not in the mi­nor­ity. You get cheered on.”

Jim Sensen­bren­ner, Repub­li­can from Menomonee Falls, say­ing he was not dis­cour­aged about re­turn­ing to the mi­nor­ity af­ter an eight-year stretch in power

His time in the ma­jor­ity in­cluded chair­ing the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, when he left his stamp on ma­jor laws like the Pa­triot Act. But he spent his first 15 years in the mi­nor­ity. Sensen­bren­ner said it was eas­ier to play a leg­isla­tive role as a mi­nor­ity mem­ber back then.

“There were more op­por­tu­ni­ties for mi­nor­ity in­put be­cause the Congress and pub­lic were not as bit­terly di­vided as they are now,” said Sensen­bren­ner, cit­ing his role reau­tho­riz­ing the Vot­ing Rights Act in the early 1980s when Democrats were in power. “It is more con­strain­ing to­day” to be in the mi­nor­ity.

He said that makes it even more im­por­tant to carve out ar­eas of ex­per­tise, be­cause you have less staff to rely on, and to have work­ing re­la­tion­ships with law­mak­ers on the other side of the aisle, who are call­ing the shots.

“While I agree with (New York Demo­crat) Jerry Nadler on prac­ti­cally noth­ing, the two of us re­spect each other,” he said of the new Ju­di­ciary chair­man. “I know when it’s some­thing that is not su­per­par­ti­san, I will at least get a hear­ing from him.”

Po­can made a sim­i­lar point about his time in the mi­nor­ity, say­ing, “you have to have re­la­tion­ships across the aisle.” He said he worked on some leg­is­la­tion with con­ser­va­tive Ohio Repub­li­can Jim Jor­dan, a for­mer cham­pion wrestler at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son, which is in Po­can’s dis­trict.

“There are lot of things we ac­tu­ally work on to­gether,” said Duffy, who said he will wait and see what life is like un­der Democrats in the House. “If you’re just fight­ing all the time … that is dis­heart­en­ing. … If this is just, ‘let’s try to im­peach, let’s try to in­ves­ti­gate,’ that will be re­ally dis­ap­point­ing.”

Sensen­bren­ner said he was not dis­cour­aged about re­turn­ing to the mi­nor­ity af­ter an eight-year stretch in power.

“I can throw more bombs. There are con­se­quences in the ma­jor­ity when you throw bombs. Not ev­ery­one ap­pre­ci­ates it. But not in the mi­nor­ity. You get cheered on,” he said.





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