The Ripon Forum

Volume 44, No. 4

Fall 2010 Issue

The Coming Generational Shift on Capitol Hill

By on October 21, 2014

by LOU ZICKAR

When Republicans won control of the House of Representatives on November 2nd, it represented not just a partisan shift on Capitol Hill, but a generational shift, as well.

Indeed, from the leaders who will be running the chamber in the 112th Congress to the chairmen who will be steering the committees, the GOP members who will be taking the reins of power are decidedly younger than their Democratic counterparts.

Let’s start with the House leadership.

The current team of Democratic leaders were all born before World War II – Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn in 1940, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in 1939. By contrast, GOP Speaker-to-be John Boehner was born in 1949, Majority Leader-to-be Eric Cantor was born in 1963, and probable-Majority Whip, Kevin McCarthy, was born in 1965. What this means is that Republicans will not only have a leadership team that is, on average, almost 20 years younger than the Democratic leaders they will replace, but the first-ever House leadership team who were all born after WWII.

Republicans will not only have a leadership team that is, on average, almost 20 years younger than the Democratic leaders they will replace, but the first-ever House leadership team who were all born after WWII.

A similar generational shift will be seen on most of the congressional committees.

Take the House Budget Committee, which will be ground zero in the effort to reduce the size of government and get federal spending under control. The current chairman, John Spratt of South Carolina, was born in 1942. His expected successor, Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan, is almost three decades younger than Spratt, having been born in 1970.

The same holds true for the Ways and Means Committee, which will be the focal point of the effort to keep taxes low and reform the federal tax code. The current Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Michigan’s Sander Levin, was born in 1931, while Dave Camp, a fellow Michigander and his likely successor, is over two decades younger, having been born in 1953.

Another key panel in the next Congress is likely to be the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees the federal bureaucracy and how the Obama Administration is doing its job. The current chairman of the panel, New Yorker Edolphus Towns, was born in 1934. The man who will likely succeed Towns as chairman, California’s Darrell Issa, is 19 years younger than Towns and, like Camp, was born in 1953.

Other generational shifts will also be found on: the Rules Committee, where California Republican David Dreier is 23 years younger than Democrat Louise Slaughter of New York; the Agriculture Committee, where Oklahoma Republican Frank Lucas is 16 years younger than Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson; the Intelligence Committee, where Mac Thornberry of Texas is 15 years younger than fellow Texan Silvestre Reyes; the Energy and Commerce Committee, where Michigan Republican Fred Upton is 14 years younger than Democrat Henry Waxman of California; and, the Financial Services Committee, where Alabama Republican Spencer Bachus is seven years younger than Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank.

Of course, not every committee will see a younger face as chairman should Republicans take the reins of power.

The powerful House Appropriations Committee, which oversees the federal purse strings, will see control shift from 72-year old Democrat David Obey of Wisconsin to, most likely, 73-year old Republican Harold Rogers of Kentucky. Similarly, the Science and Technology Committee, which is currently headed by 51-year old Democrat Bart Gordon of Tennessee, will see power transfer to Republican Ralph Hall of Texas, who is 87.

But these examples are the exception, not the rule.

In all, 16 out of the 19 House committees will be headed by younger members when the takes control next year. To be more exact, the incoming Republican chairmen will be, on average, almost 10 years younger than the Democratic chairmen they will replace.

In all, 16 out of the 19 House committees will be headed by younger members when the takes control next year. To be more exact, the incoming Republican chairmen will be, on average, almost 10 years younger than the Democratic chairmen they will replace.

So, what does this generational transfer of power mean?

Among other things, it means that the new leaders of a Republican-led Congress will likely be more in tune with rhythms of younger American life. Evidence of this can be seen already in the GOP’s aggressive use of social media, which, by most accounts, surpasses what their Democratic counterparts on Capitol Hill have done and has allowed Republicans to communicate with a generation that gets more information from Twitter than TV.

Having a younger generation in charge of the House of Representatives also means that the Nation will have new leaders who, figuratively speaking, are looking at life through the windshield, not the rearview mirror. Most of these leaders have mortgages. Many have children. Some are putting kids through school. For them, policy debates over rising debt and higher taxes are not esoteric exercises shaped by times gone by, but rather real world decisions shaped by the lives they and their families are leading today.

More than anything, though, having younger members take the reins on Capitol Hill means that for the second straight election, Americans have chosen youth over experience when they went to the polls. In 2008, they elected a President in Barack Obama who was 47 years old. In 2010, they elected a Republican leadership team with an average age of 51.

This youth movement could be one of the most far-reaching changes of this election. In the end, it could also be a generational bridge that helps a Democrat President and Republican House cross the partisan divide.

Lou Zickar is the Editor of The Ripon Forum.

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