By Alexander Bolton - 03/01/12 10:30 AM EST
The surprise announcement that Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) will retire at the end of this year has roiled the line of succession to two of the Senate’s most powerful committees. Snowe’s retirement would have bigger implications if Republicans recapture the Senate majority and control of the chamber’s panels.
Finance Committee: Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), ranking Republican on the panel with jurisdiction over taxes, trade and entitlement programs, has argued to conservative voters at home that they should reelect him to prevent Snowe, a centrist, from inheriting the top GOP slot on Finance.
Snowe’s retirement will deprive Hatch’s campaign of this argument, although a spokeswoman for Hatch said the chance that he might become Finance Committee chairman is still a compelling reason to vote for him.
Commerce Committee: Snowe’s retirement puts Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), co-founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, in line to become the ranking Republican on Commerce, as current ranking Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) has also announced her retirement.
DeMint is known as an agitator for conservative causes, ready to block Senate floor action to advance his arguments.
He said the committee promotion would allow him to focus on legislating.
“I’d look forward to that — if we can get ourselves to some kind of trajectory toward balancing the budget — to get back to legislating,” DeMint said. “I’d rather legislate than agitate.”
DeMint said he will push legislation to rewrite rules for broadcast and cable television that he called “antiquated.”
DeMint will advocate for consolidating federal agencies and “looking at how we can reconstruct the whole Commerce Department.”
“There are a lot of things like [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and agencies that I think have been mishandled politically over the years that we need to review,” he said.