WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, was appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday, giving his political career and Maryland’s visibility yet another boost.
“In what’s already been a great year for Maryland legislators, it’s another good feather in the cap for Maryland,” said Zach Messitte, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College.
Van Hollen was one of nine Democrats newly appointed to the exclusive committee, which writes tax and entitlement program legislation, by Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the Democratic Steering Committee. The full Democratic Caucus will vote on the nominations in January.
Van Hollen’s appointment is the latest in a string of political gains for Maryland, which already boasts Majority Leader-elect Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, and Baltimore native Pelosi.
“I am pleased and honored to have the opportunity to serve on the Ways and Means Committee,” Van Hollen said, adding that he would “work to ensure that we have tax system that is fair and equitable for all Americans.”
“I think it positions Maryland in the House in a very good place,” said Ron Walters, who teaches government and politics at the University of Maryland. “For Chris Van Hollen to have a role there means that he’s really going to be able to protect the interest of the state and further the interest of the state in a very effective way.”
The congressman’s new position will give him a voice on issues like increasing higher education funding and raising the minimum wage, which would especially benefit the state’s poverty-ridden areas like Baltimore, Walters said.
Although he has only completed two terms in the House, Van Hollen’s reputation as a savvy up-and-comer likely contributed to his appointment, analysts said.
“He’s been perceived as a serious legislator and as someone who’s smart,” Messitte said. “The word is that he’s someone that’s doing a good job, that he’s got potential to do greater leadership things.”
The congressman worked closely with Pelosi as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program, which mounted successful Democratic challenges to Republican incumbents and helped Democrats take back the House last month.
“In some ways it’s a quid pro quo, and it’s a good one, but it’s also about (Pelosi) building her own base,” Walters said. “Normally you have to wait a little longer to get on that committee because it’s so important.”
The post could give more traction to Van Hollen’s local political aspirations, including perhaps another try at the U.S. Senate, which he considered and then nixed when Sen. Paul Sarbanes announced his retirement, Messitte said.
Van Hollen is also in the running for chairmanship of the DCCC, but his chances there are diminished by his appointment to an exclusive committee and the fact that he’s not perceived as a “party leader” like outgoing chairman Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., Walters said.
“I would be very surprised if it happened,” he said. “To be a member of Ways and Means and to run the DCCC, that would signify that he’s on the fast track to leadership.”
Among the appointments made Tuesday was that of Rep.-elect John Sarbanes, D-Towson, who was named to the Education and the Workforce Committee, which Van Hollen will likely leave to serve on Ways and Means.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, had been eyeing a Ways and Means spot but did not receive one. Cummings has stated a preference for the Appropriations Committee, said spokeswoman Devika Koppikar.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, has also said he would like to serve on Appropriations. Those appointments will be made today, said a Democratic leadership aide.
The Steering Committee also announced that it will keep Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., off the Ways and Means Committee until an investigation is resolved after federal agents found $90,000 worth of possible bribe money in his freezer.