12/26/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Battle Over Next Oversight Chair Heats Up

As of Tuesday there is no official race for the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee -- a spot created once Rep. Henry Waxman, the former chair, became head of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

But behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, there is a growing division between those who think seniority should determine the next chair and those who think the post should be decided on merit.

Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY), who is next in line to take over Oversight, has begun a lobbying effort to claim the post. But there is growing criticism over his absenteeism from committee hearings during the past year -- according to the Hill, he missed at least 53 such events. And sources tell the Huffington Post that if leadership had its way, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) would be ascending to the head of the committee.

Cummings is a far more active presence on the Hill and has been heralded for his work investigating FEMA as well as other matters. His reputation is such that, having stressed that he would not run against Towns, one aide close to the proceedings nevertheless predicted that if another member were to nominate him, Cummings would win the Steering Committee vote. A full caucus vote, the aide said, would be closer.

At this point in time, however, only one of the congressmen is officially campaigning for the post. According to The Hill, Towns has recruited the support of three Oversight subcommittee chairmen -- Reps. Dennis Kucinich, Danny Davis and Lacy Clay -- and is securing the backing of members of the Congressional Black Caucus and his fellow New York Democrats.

Cumming's office reiterated its position on Tuesday that they won't enter the ring if Towns wants the position.

Another aide on the Hill, however, said a compromise solution is being bandied about: whereby Waxman would take some of the oversight responsibilities with him to Energy and Commerce (like, say, investigating the oil industry), Towns would be made Oversight chair, but much of the investigatory work and hearings would be given to subcommittees.

"Leadership is trying to find a way to make sure Towns seniority is respected," said the source, "but to move the responsibilities to someone else."

As of now, members are in something of a holding pattern on the issue. An aide to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the Steering Committee, says that there is currently no scheduled vote on the next chair. Members are on recess until Congress convenes a session on the auto industry in early December. The Steering Committee can hold a hearing without Congress being officially active, but it usually waits for members to come back to D.C.