In the PA Senate, it’s good to be the king. Among several powers afforded to the Senate President Pro Tempore is the ability to determine the size and membership of standing committees, the crucial gatekeepers standing between new legislation and floor votes.
Ending a few weeks of post-election chatter on the subject, staffers for Senate President Joe Scarnati confirmed that he would, indeed, use those powers to increase Republican majorities on 21 of 22 legislative committees.
“We adopted the legislative rules and added one slot to every committee, except the Appropriations Committee,” said Scarnati’s chief of staff, Drew Crompton. “Those slots will be filled by Republicans.”
The move is allowed under a Senate rule that ties party balance on the committee to majorities within the Senate itself, which notably increased in the GOP’s favor after November’s blowout election.
But Crompton said the move wasn’t a power grab – Republicans already enjoyed strong majorities on every committee – but instead an effort to placate his party’s swelling ranks.
“The real problem is that there are committees that everyone wants to serve on, and there are committees that some people don’t want to serve on,” he explained. “The problem really is about getting new committee slots for all those new members. I don’t know what else I would have done.”
Scarnati’s office depicted the move as a symbol of detente with a largely powerless Democratic majority, adding that the Senate President could have chosen to simply replace one Democrat with a Republican on each committee.
The PA Democratic Party declined to comment on the changes.