The defeat of veteran Democratic Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., on Tuesday helps ease what had been a looming headache for the Democratic leadership in the House, opening up a second seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and averting a collision course between two popular Democrats who had been jockeying for a single spot.
The tax-writing panel, always one of the House's most coveted spots to land, is a particularly plum post heading into the 113th Congress, when many believe an overhaul of the tax code is likely. Leading into Election Day, only one Democratic spot on the panel was guaranteed to be up for grabs: that of departing Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who ran for Senate in 2012, instead of reelection.
The problem for Democrats was that Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., both wanted the seat. Both had been booted from the panel when Democrats were swept from power after the 2010 election. Stark's loss to 31-year-old upstart challenger Eric Swalwell, however, means both are now in line to land a seat on the committee. They were the two Democratic lawmakers with the most seniority to be removed two years ago.
"Congresswoman Schwartz is optimistic that she will be reappointed to Ways and Means," said Rachel Magnuson, Schwartz's chief of staff. Van Hollen's office declined to comment.
Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have yet to negotiate the partisan ratios of committees in the next Congress, but Democrats are unlikely to lose ground on the panel as they picked up seats in the House overall.
Stark, a four-decade veteran congressman, wasn't just a member of Ways and Means, but the ranking Democrat on the Health subcommittee. He was actually in line to be chairman of the full panel when Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., was forced to step aside amid an ethics investigation several years ago, but Pelosi passed over him for Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., who is currently the panel's ranking Democrat.
In fact, both two spots on the health subcommittee of Ways and Means are now open. The chairman of that sub-panel, Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., is retiring at the end of the 112th Congress.