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Bringing Change to Washington, Through Attrition

Cameron Cushman

When Barack Obama was still a presidential candidate, he promised to change the way Washington worked. He was swept to power on this mantra of change accompanied by seemingly insurmountable majorities in both houses of Congress. But due to a multitude of factors, major membership changes are coming to the United States Congress that could have interesting implications for the second half of the President’s term.

The President opened up several seats through his own appointments. First, with his election to the highest office in the land, he vacated his own seat in Illinois and by choosing Joe Biden as his Vice President he created an opening in Delaware. Through appointments to his cabinet, he also produced holes in New York, (Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State) and in Colorado (Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior). Though these vacancies have been filled, they have been replaced by relative newcomers with little name recognition.

Three Democratic Senators have announced they will not seek reelection in November—Chris Dodd (Connecticut), Byron Dorgan (North Dakota) and Evan Bayh (Indiana). These long-serving members of the U.S. Senate will not only vacate seats in states that could go red or blue, but their retirements will also leave behind seats on several powerful committees—Dodd is the embattled chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs that is currently charged with reform of the banking system in response to the 2008 financial crisis.

A rash of retirements are also facing Republicans, with six Senators announcing that this will be their last term—Brownback in Kansas, Bond in Missouri, Voinovich in Ohio, Bunning in Kentucky, Gregg in New Hampshire and Martinez in Florida (who has already resigned and his replacement George LeMieux is not running either).

Add to this the death of long-time Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and this means that at least fourteen members of the Senate (out of 100) in 2009 will not be returning. This represents an unprecedented number of open races, even before a single ballot has been cast.

In the House of Representatives, sixteen Democrats have announced they will retire this year, along with eighteen Republicans. These thirty four retirements represent only 8 percent of total House membership (435), just over half of what will occur in the Senate, who only face reelection every six years.

This means radical change will be coming to the Senate. It doesn’t necessarily translate to a large advantage for one party or another, but it certainly opens the door for new blood among the typically entrenched Senate establishment.

What will these changes mean for the future of our country and for the future of our entrepreneurship policy?  Who will the American people choose to represent them to get the economy back on track and create the jobs of the future? Only time will tell, but it’s clear that big changes are coming to the United States Senate.

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