Friday November 09, 2012 | 04:34 PM

WASHINGTON – Congressional committee assignments . . . not exactly a sexy topic.

But committees are where most of the work takes place on Capitol Hill, so having a local senator or representative strategically placed on a powerful committee can make a difference back home.

With the elections now over, congressional leaders will soon begin figuring out the composition of those committees. Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s retirement means that Maine’s representation on Senate committees will almost certainly change.


Snowe currently serves on the committees that oversee taxes and health care (Finance), fisheries and transportation (Commerce, Science and Transportation) and small businesses (Small Business and Entrepreneurship).

Snowe’s successor, Angus King, can request to serve on specific committees. But as a freshman senator, he probably won’t have as much pull as more senior members – that is, unless he can strike a deal with either Democratic or Republican leaders who want the independent in their caucus.

Stay tuned for that. King has suggested that he may try to use his caucusing options as a bargaining chip. He and party leaders will likely have those conversations next week when he is in DC for new-senator orientation, although committee assignments won’t be announced for some time.

Meanwhile, term limits may require Maine Sen. Susan Collins to give up her powerful position next year as the top Republican on a high-profile Senate oversight committee.

Under Republican rules, members can only serve six years as chairman or, if their party is in the minority, as “ranking member” of a committee before handing over the leadership reins to someone else. This is Collins’ sixth year as ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

In addition to its general government oversight responsibilities, the committee regularly conducts investigations. Past probes while Collins has served as ranking member or chairman included the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the shootings on the Fort Hood Army base in Texas. The committee is currently investigating the issues surrounding the September attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Collins can request a waiver to remain as ranking member – a high-profile post that helps set the agenda for the committee – but that would mean potentially bumping the person next in line. She can also request to stay on the committee as a normal member.

Spokesman Kevin Kelley said Friday that Collins and King plan to meet next week when they will discuss, among other things, “committee assignments and how they can work together to best address issues critical to Maine and the nation.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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