Retirements drain Congress of leaders amid frustration over gridlock, dysfunction

FILE: June 27, 2013: Committee Chairman and Michigan Reps. Dave Camp, R, and Sander Levin, D, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C.

FILE: June 27, 2013: Committee Chairman and Michigan Reps. Dave Camp, R, and Sander Levin, D, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C. -  (REUTERS)

An exodus this year on Capitol Hill is creating a void in Congress, with some of its most experienced and skillful lawmakers suggesting the partisan gridlock is finally taking a toll.  

The announcement this week by GOP Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, marked the eighth committee chairmen to retire this year from Congress -- four in the House and four in the Senate. In total, 23 House members are retiring this year. In the Senate, Oklahoma GOP Sen. Tom Coburn has resigned.

The 12-term congressman’s decision not to seek re-election came just several days after Rep. Mike Rogers, another Michigan Republican and House committee chairman, said he also would leave in January.

Though Camp said he didn’t want to make the “mistake” of staying too long, as he had seen other congressional members do, he left with essentially no support for his plan to revise the country’s complicated tax code.

Roger purportedly cast some of the blame for gridlock on Republican infighting, saying an “all-or-nothing wing” has slowed conservative progress.

“There is dysfunction in Congress,” said Dave Wasserman, the House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “Never have the parties been so far apart. There are now so few legitimate purveyors of bipartisan legislation.”

He points to the lack of support of Camp’s plan as the prime example of the dysfunction and gridlock.

“Republicans were just too fearful … to take the political risk of putting the bill on the floor,” he told

Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus resigned last year as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee under similar circumstances.

While Congress this year indeed loses some of it most experience lawmakers, who arguable were among the last of the bipartisan dealmakers, several of the Capitol Hill’s most promising lawmakers are already lining up for their committee posts.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee, is considered a top contender for Camp’s post.  

No state will likely be hit harder by retirement than Michigan, which will lose 136 years of seniority when including the departures of Sens. John Dingell and Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The 87-year-old Dingell is the longest service member of Congress in history.

“Chairmanships of powerful committees almost always go to the most senior members [so] the retirements mean Michigan will have less access to those kinds of positions and the influence that they carry,” University of Michigan political science professor Arthur Lupia told “Some of Michigan's retiring representatives are amongst the most effective congress-persons in the country. So that's a loss as well. But there are a lot of hard-working individuals at all levels of state government here.

He cited Mike Bishop, a former Michigan legislator and Senate majority leader who is now running for Roger’s open seat, and Dingell’s wife, Debbie Dingell, whose political power extends from Washington to Detroit.

“She is very well connected to important constituencies in her area and in D.C.,” Lupia said.

Wasserman argues the situation in Michigan was bound to happen.

“At some point Michigan was going to have to go back to the drawing board. It’s been an extremely senior delegation” he said. “I cannot remember another congressional brain drain like this, but it's a great time of transition.”