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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

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The Peril of the Minority

Being in the majority in Congress provides one with a lot of perquisites. Some of them seem relatively small in the grand scale of things - like larger staff for majority members. However, these benefits can be of great consequence. Taken together, they add up to an advantage at the ballot box - the majority has the power to perpetuate itself.

There are many items that facilitate this power, probably the greatest of which is the capacity to set the agenda. That enables the majority to offer legislation that is politically beneficial to it. For instance, if it offers bills that unite its side and divide the other side, it can position itself well for the next election. This is also the case in the committees - which, of course, are controlled by the majority. On top of these very significant powers, the majority gets more staff, and nicer offices.

Yep - being in the minority stinks, especially when you are used to being in the majority. That's the worst way to be in the minority - to go there having been in the majority for most (if not all) of your congressional career. You get used to the perquisites, and now that they're gone, you're left wondering if this is worth it. Maybe you should retire...

This is what is concerning the Republican leadership these days. Now that the party is in the minority, and it looks as though it will be difficult (to say the least) for them to reclaim the majority next year, they fear that a large number of dispossessed Republicans will retire. Retirements yield open seat elections, which are more likely to be fought over the issues of the day, and which are more likely to have quality Democrats as candidates.

Those probably most likely to retire are minority members of the party with a long tenure in the majority and with the expectation of a tough race in the next election. Why should they run again? They might lose, which would be an awful way to end their congressional careers. And, even more importantly, they do not have all that much to look forward to if they win. They're used to the majority position, after all. For these types of members, there are lots of risks and precious few rewards. These types of retirements are particularly perilous for the minority party - as they almost assuredly give the majority party an advantage in picking up the seat.

This is why it must be disappointing news today for the Republicans to learn that Deborah Pryce is going to retire. Pryce is a fifteen year veteran of the House. And she fought one hell of a race last cycle to hold her seat in the face of a tough challenge from Mary Jo Kilroy. You'd have to put her in the same category as Chris Shays and Jim Gerlach - both of whom survived the Democratic triumph through sheer grit and determination. Ditto for Pryce, who rightly characterized that race (if memory serves) as a "knife fight." Hard, smart work kept her in Congress even as the Democrats were picking up seats as diverse as CT 02 and KS 02.

And now she's retiring. That is unfortunate for the Republicans. They probably would have lost OH 15 without Pryce on the ballot last year. And, the political winds will have to shift at least a little bit to give them a better than 50% chance of holding the seat now.

Pryce's departure indicates that the majority and minority positions are both, in their own ways, self-perpetuating. The minority party often has a hard time inducing members to run for reelection, thus endangering their already too-few share of seats. The retirement of Deborah Pryce is a case in point, and a severe blow to the GOP.

-Jay Cost