The Washington Post

2014: The year committee chairmen left town

The announcement Monday that House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) plans to retire after his current term means four Republican House committee chairmen and five Democratic Senate committee chairmen are planning to step down -- a modern record in terms of retirements among highly-ranked members of Congress.

Former Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). (Getty Images)

Let's review:

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.): Stepped down as chairman of the Finance Committee in February to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, but he had already announced plans to retire.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa): Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee announced last year that he was stepping down.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.): He leads the Banking Committee and is retiring after three terms.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.): He's led the Armed Services Committee since 2007 and is retiring after six terms.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.): Current leader of the Commerce and Transportation Committee, he's leaving Capitol Hill after five terms.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.): Retiring after winning his first congressional term in 1990.

Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings (R-Wash.): Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, he's out after 10 terms in office.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.): After 11 terms, he's term-limited out of his job atop the House Armed Services Committee.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.): Stunned colleagues last week by announcing that he'll step down after this year to host a nationally-syndicated radio show. He had two more years to go as leader of the panel.

There's basically two things at work here: Advanced age or term limits on chairmen.

Among the senators, this year's retiring class definitely outranks previous cycles in terms of years of service. All five retiring Democrats have served since in Congress since the late 1970s or 1980s. Baucus and Levin are leaving after 36 years each, while Harkin and Rockefeller will have served 30.

Democrats have less strict rules about how long someone can sit atop a committee, but House Republicans strictly abide by six-year limits, with very few exceptions. Camp, Hastings and McKeon are all at the end of their six-year chairman terms and once they step down, there's little room left for professional growth in the House. Rogers's term atop the intelligence panel doesn't end until 2016, but it appears he's opting instead for a big radio pay day.

Adding to the intrigue, all four retiring chairmen are close friends of Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), so their exits continue feeding speculation that the House leader also plans to retire after this year.

Overall, this year's retirements are keeping pace with the 2012 cycle but are running ahead of the 2010 cycle. So far, more House Republicans than House Democrats are stepping down, while more Senate Democrats than Senate Republicans are planning to go. Seems that being a member of the majority party has another benefit: If the timing is right, you can leave on top.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.



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