Towns E and C seat not in peril

Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) is unlikely to lose his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee after missing several key budget votes last year.

Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) is unlikely to lose his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee after missing several key budget votes last year.

Towns met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) late last year after having been absent for the votes, which were deemed extremely important by Democratic leaders. In the meeting, Pelosi reportedly threatened him with losing his spot on the coveted panel because leaders believed his absences were not justified.

But Towns’s allies argued at the time that he and other members had not been aware that their committee assignments might be in jeopardy should they miss the votes.

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who like Towns is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), came to Towns’s defense in December, telling The Hill that “to the extent that people did not know the consequences, I think that we as leaders of the party have to accept responsibility.”

Clyburn is now chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and his assessment of the situation would likely carry weight with other leaders.

House sources said that without the support of Clyburn or Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) — another influential CBC member — Pelosi would be unlikely to go through with the threat.

would need the support of someone like Rangel to take him off the committee, and it doesn’t seem like that support is there,” a Democratic leadership aide said.

An aide to a CBC member said Pelosi would invite a fight with the group if she ousted Towns from the panel.

“That would stir up a hornet’s nest. She would have a lot of trouble on her hands,” the aide said.

A spokeswoman for Towns, Ruth Morrison, would not comment on the issue.

Towns is the fifth-ranking Democrat on the committee.

Democratic leaders have made party unity a priority in recent years, seeking to differentiate themselves from Republicans and offer a clear alternative. On tight votes, such as recent budget votes, Democratic leaders have worked to make sure that that all their members vote no and that most, if not all, are present. They have often told rank-and-file members that every Democrat voting no means one more vulnerable Republican will have to vote yes on a bill that could come back to dog them at the polls.

No Democrat has voted for the Republicans’ budgets since 2003.

That streak nearly ended late last year when Republicans offered Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) $5 billion in funds to rebuild hurricane-ravaged southern Louisiana in return for voting yes on the budget. Mississippi Gulf Coast Rep. Gene Taylor (D) was reportedly made a similar offer, yet both offers fell through when Republican leaders found other Republicans who would vote yes for fewer incentives.

Aside from missing the two budget votes, Towns also voted against party leaders on the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a move that irked Pelosi, labor unions and other Democratically aligned groups. Democrats had hoped to defeat the trade pact, which was a pivotal segment of President Bush’s free-trade agenda.

Labor unions have mounted primary challenges to some of the 15 Democrats who voted for the deal. So far, Towns has steered clear of a challenge from labor, although there has been talk that service unions are working to recruit a candidate.