GREENVILLE — As he prepares to relinquish control of the Senate judiciary committee next year, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has set his sights on the chairmanship of another powerful panel: the budget committee.
Graham, R-S.C., has recently started quietly making his future bid to take over that committee part of his reelection pitch, using it to motivate GOP voters and warn them about the radically different scenario if Republicans lose their Senate majority.
"If the Senate flips to Democrats, Bernie Sanders is the budget committee chairman," Graham said at an Upstate GOP event Monday night. "If we keep the Senate, I’m the chair."
The path for Graham to win the budget gavel involves the type of convoluted Senate musical chairs that occurs at the beginning of every new term due to a Republican rule limiting their chairmen to six years at the helm of each committee.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wants to take back his seat leading the judiciary committee from Graham because his term running the finance committee that oversees tax, debt and trade issues is expiring. Graham already made clear last year he would voluntarily give the judiciary post back to Grassley.
Meanwhile, the budget committee's top seat is opening because its chairman, U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is retiring.
With Grassley's next move planned, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho becomes the only Republican member of the budget committee with more seniority than Graham. But Crapo is next in line to replace Grassley as finance committee chairman.
Those shifts would likely position Graham to lead the budget committee, which is tasked with developing a broad blueprint for congressional spending known as the "budget resolution."
However, as Graham pointed out, that all depends on Republicans keeping the majority, a prospect that appears increasingly in doubt. Sanders, the Vermont senator who twice lost primaries for the Democratic nomination for president, is in line to become chairman if Democrats win the majority.
It also depends on Graham winning his own reelection in November.
Recent polls have indicated that is no sure thing, even in a historically red state like South Carolina, where Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison has significantly narrowed — if not eliminated — Graham's lead.
Harrison campaign spokesman Guy King said Graham's angling for committee chairmanships suggests he's "prioritizing next year's political games over today's urgent need for solutions to South Carolina's most pressing challenges."