Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Senate: Really Old, Staying That Way

I just watched a quick little tribute on the Senate floor to Dan Inouye, who apparently passed Ted Kennedy today to become the third longest serving Senator, behind Strom Thurmand and Robert Byrd. You'll notice that three of these served in the current Senate. In fact, aging Senators is a big trend over the last several electoral cycles. CRS reports that "the average age of Senators at the beginning of the 111th Congress was 63.1 years," and that's a full three years older than the beginning of the 109th Congress, which was the oldest Senate ever and the first to break 60 (see below for data details).

Is there any chance for the Senate to start getting younger?

I'll start with the post-election changes, with current ages:

IL Obama (48) -> Burris (72)
DE Biden (66) -> Kaufman (70)
NY Clinton (61) -> Gillibrand (42)
CO Salazar (54) -> Bennet (44)
FL Martinez (62) -> LeMieux (40)
MA Kennedy (77) -> Kirk (71)

Adding that up, that's a decrease of a total of 29 years. Unfortunately, the other 94 Senators will have, over the course of the year and assuming no other changes, aged by an aggregate of 94 years, and all 100 will, if there are no further changes, age another year before the Congress ends. However, there is one certain change in the works, with Kirk (71) to be replaced soon. The frontrunner, Martha Coakley, is 56.

How about the prospects for the 112th Senate?

Here are the retirements so far, again with current age:
Burris (72)
Kaufman (70)
LeMieux (40)
Brownback (53)
Bunning (77)
Bond (60)
Gregg (52)
Voinovich (73)
Hutchison (66; she is supposedly retiring early, but we'll see)

This is not good news at all for those who want a less aged Senate. The average age of the retiring Senators is only 62.6, just barely older than the Senate as a whole. Meanwhile, Senators Leahy, Inouye, Mikulski, McCain, Shelby, and Bennett (UT), all well over the Senate average, appear to be shoe-ins for re-elections to six more years (most of this group will be over 80 by January 2017).

I'm strongly against term limits, and I think that experience is a good thing in Congress...but I would like to see a lot more Senators in their 30s and 40s, and a lot fewer over 75.

Notes: I don't have a copy of Vital Statistics on Congress at hand, but I don't know that they have data on Senator age, and on line versions of CRS reports only seem to go back to the 107th Congress. CRS's reports sometimes say that the then-current Senate is the oldest ever, but they also sometimes say it's the among the oldest ever, or the oldest in at least X years, or the oldest since they start having data (early 20th century), so it's a bit confusing. Also, it wasn't clear whether Al Franken, who was 57 in January and 58 when he took office, was included in the CRS calculation (Norm Coleman, who is almost two years older than Franken, was not included; different parts of the report refer to either 99 or 100 Senators, so I don't know which was used in the age calculation). The average age sentence in the CRS report talks about the beginning of the Senate, which would include Biden, Clinton, and Salazar (and Martinez and Kennedy) but leave Illinois vacant; again, I don't know what they chose to do, and I'm not energetic enough to run the numbers myself).

Also, all the numbers I ran just used whole-number age today (I ignored, for example, that two of the Senators mentioned have birthdays tomorrow, October 23). I have no idea how CRS calculated their score.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, Bennett (UT)'s re-election is seriously in doubt. His renomination is being challenged by Mark Shurtleff (52, turning 53), who's much closer to the GOP base than he is. It's also speculated that Jason Chaffetz (42, turning 43) might jump into the race.

    It's not much, but we'll take every year we can wind back.


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