Iowa Independent reports that Senator Arlen Specter's decision to become a Democrat leaves Iowa's own Chuck Grassley with a difficult choice. He is currently the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, but with Specter's departure he appears to be first in line to become ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee instead. According to Iowa Independent,
GOP conference rules forbid him from serving as ranking member of both panels at the same time, a Senate aide said Tuesday. Theoretically, he could get a waiver to serve on both, but that's unlikely, the aide said.
So very shortly, Grassley has a tough choice to make: Either he can remain the senior Republican on Finance - a powerful spot this year with comprehensive health reforms looming, but also a position he'll have to give up at the end of 2010 because of GOP term-limit rules - or he can accept the top GOP spot on Judiciary.
Judiciary will consider many important matters this year and next, possibly including a Supreme Court nominee. However, if I were Grassley I would stay at Finance for sure.
President Barack Obama wants health care reform to happen this year and is willing to use the budget reconciliation process to make it happen. The health care reform bill may become one of the most important pieces of legislation this decade. By all accounts Grassley has a strong working relationship with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.
I don't think Judiciary will consider anything of comparable importance this year, and I doubt Grassley and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy would quickly develop the same kind of rapport Grassley has with Baucus.
At the end of 2010, Grassley's term as ranking member of Finance will be up, and he can choose whether to become the ranking member of Judiciary or Budget. He has expressed a preference for Judiciary in the past.
If you were Grassley, would you take the chance to become the ranking member at Judiciary this year? If Grassley did give up his current position, it appears that Orrin Hatch would become the ranking member at Finance.
By the way, David Waldman reported yesterday at Congress Matters that Specter's switch throws off the Judiciary Committee's ratio of Democrats and Republicans. A new Senate organizing resolution will have to be adopted, and Democrats may use that opportunity to secure more seats on the Senate committees.
UPDATE: Grassley's press secretary Beth Pellett Levine told me on Wednesday that the senator has not made any statement about whether he would consider becoming the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.