WASHINGTON — The Louisiana congressional delegation entered the 113th Congress last week with one person fewer, but with a little more overall seniority.
The state lost a seat in Congress because of stagnant population growth, but each member of the now eight-person delegation won re-election, and several of the members are gaining in leadership positions.
“Even though we’re a small delegation, we’ll continue to punch above our weight,” U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, said.
Boustany had the toughest re-election campaign to win because he had to defeat fellow incumbent U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia. Redistricting and the loss of a congressional seat threw them into the same southwestern Louisiana district.
“Clearly, losing a member gives us one less seat and one less vote,” Boustany said. “But we’ve accrued significant seniority.”
When Boustany first joined Congress in 2005, the Louisiana delegation had lost a lot of its seniority and longtime members, he said.
“But I think that’s changed,” he said.
Boustany will continue to chair the Oversight Subcommittee of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
But a few members of the delegation are gaining new positions.
The dean of Louisiana’s House delegation, Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, is the new chairman of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which is the top money committee.
The chairmen of the 12 appropriations subcommittees are unofficially dubbed “cardinals.”
“It moves you up on the bargaining table a little bit more,” Alexander said.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, rose to the vice chairman position in the House Energy and Power Subcommittee.
Scalise also is a rising star among House conservatives, and he won an upset victory to lead the Republican Study Committee, which is Congress’ largest conservative caucus.
On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, moved to the House Judiciary Committee and the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. But he also took an upgraded “senior whip” position that makes him one of the top vote wranglers for Democrats on the House floor.
In the upper chamber, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La, is now the top GOP member — or “ranking member” — of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., will continue her leadership roles chairing both the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee and Appropriations’ Homeland Security Subcommittee.
“Our delegation is gaining in seniority and strength and that just comes with time,” Landrieu said. “The question is whether they use that power to help the state or to further their political parties.”
She said the state’s delegation traditionally puts Louisiana first.
“I hope that continues,” she said, before noting concerns about the more “partisan nature of Congress” and the “tea party ideology.”
“They’re going to have to sometimes stand up to the tea party,” Landrieu said of the delegation’s six Republicans. “All in all, I’m going to remain hopeful, and I’ve had a good relationship with all the members for the most part.”
But Landrieu faces another re-election in 2014, and she could be facing opposition from a couple of the House members in U.S. Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, and John Fleming, R-Minden.
In part because of re-election, Landrieu had one significant staff swap this week. Jane Campbell, her chief of staff and a former Cleveland mayor, swapped positions with Don Cravins Jr., a former state senator who was directing Landrieu’s small business committee. Campbell wanted to focus more on policy and Cravins wanted a bigger role in politics, Landrieu said.
“It’ll position me even better for my re-election,” Landrieu said.
Cassidy, who is often cited as a potential rival to Landrieu, will continue to serve on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee and its Health Subcommittee; and Fleming still will lead the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs.
“We’re well positioned,” said Cassidy, who noted he will focus his efforts to reform Medicaid and Medicare and rein in federal spending.
“I think we, as Americans and not just Louisianians, have to be concerned about debt and the deficit,” Cassidy said. “Our concerns are the same. If we don’t control debt and the deficit, there won’t be enough money for coastal restoration (and other state priorities).”
Alexander said he believes the delegation is ready to tackle the top national issues on federal spending and make tough decisions. He said he wants to cut wasteful military spending and also consider increasing the retirement ages for Medicare and Social Security.
“I’m one of those conservatives who thinks we ought to look at military spending,” Alexander said. “We need to have the political courage to be able to say so.”
On other state priorities, Boustany said the delegation will continue together in bipartisan ways to support coastal restoration, agriculture and a new federal farm bill, river dredging projects, the energy industry and more.