Washington Matters


GOP Chairmen-in-Waiting Poised to Act

Richard Sammon

The Republican team that will soon be running the House is primed for action on everything from taxes to health care.



Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the next speaker of the House, has pledged to decentralize legislative power, giving committee chairmen broad latitude to develop legislation and set their own agendas. If he follows through on that promise, it will be one more way that the new House looks and feels different from the current Democratic House, where most of the decisions, strategy and legislation have been directed from the office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Most of the soon-to-be GOP chairmen are not household names, but many soon will be.

Here's a rundown of who'll be in charge of what:

Appropriations. Jerry Lewis of California will likely head this all-important panel that sets funding for every government agency. This is normally a plum assignment, with the power to steer goodies to home states and districts, but Lewis will find the going rough. Many of the newly elected GOP conservatives want to end earmarks and sharply reduce government spending in all areas. If Lewis is reluctant to wield a big knife, he may find himself more in agreement with committee Democrats. Plus there'll be intense corporate lobbying as businesses and special interests try to protect their programs. Lewis will especially protect defense spending from being targeted for major cuts. The ranking Democrat will most likely be Norm Dicks of Washington state. Dicks is also a champion of defense spending, representing a district where Boeing, a top defense contractor, is a major employer.

Budget. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, often seen as a rising star in the GOP caucus, will take over this panel, which develops the annual parameters of all federal spending and works closely with the appropriations panel. There'll be much interest in how Ryan sets spending policy and how aggressively he'll fight Senate Democrats, who'll pass their own budget resolution. Look for Ryan to try to block any unspent funds from the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program or the 2009 stimulus act. The Democratic Senate and the White House won't go for that.

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Ways and Means. Dave Camp of Michigan is expected to win the chairmanship of the powerful panel, which sets tax policy and has a hand one way or another in most of what Congress does, including health policy. Camp will lead the push for an overhaul of tax policy, especially corporate taxes, and take on President Obama, who wants to raise income taxes on higher earners. The panel will also be part of efforts to repeal central parts of the health care law, and when that fails, as it surely will, it will try to slow or stop implementation of selected provisions.

Financial Services. Spencer Bachus of Alabama seems to have an inside track to head this panel, which oversees banking and Wall Street, though there may be some competition for this coveted spot. Bachus would hold many oversight hearings into the new financial services reform legislation largely written by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who will be the senior Democrat on the panel. Repealing the law will prove impossible, but Bachus may try to limit some of the provisions that critics say will unfairly burden banks and other financial firms.

Energy and Commerce. Lots of competition to lead this panel lies ahead. The committee has broad jurisdiction over business and commerce policies, including health care. Joe Barton (R-TX) is the current ranking member, but he may have difficulty becoming chairman because of the ruckus he caused when he apologized to then-BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward for the government’s treatment of the oil giant after the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. At the insistence of GOP leaders, Barton recanted the apology, but the damage to his reputation was already done. Michigan's Fred Upton also wants the chairmanship, as does John Shimkus of Illinois and Cliff Stearns of Florida. In addition to leading efforts to repeal or slow the health care law, the energy panel will be deeply involved in the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Natural Resources. Doc Hastings of Washington will be the point man on Republican energy strategy, pledging to push legislation to expand all types of energy resource development, including another attempt to open up more areas of Alaska's North Slope to oil drilling, an effort that has been rebuffed by Democrats for years. There will be some room for agreement on new energy policies, however. It's a prime area where Republicans and the White House may seek compromises in what otherwise will seem like a gridlocked Congress in the next two years. Hastings wants to lead congressional efforts to expand many types of energy production, including nuclear power, solar, wind, hydroelectric power, offshore oil drilling and coal mining.

Transportation and Infrastructure. John Mica of Florida pretty much has a lock on the chairmanship of this panel, which tends to be less partisan than others. It's a popular committee to be on because it authorizes all types of transportation and other projects. Under GOP control, the panel will continue to develop a large new six-year highway bill that will give the green light to hundreds of projects in every region of the country. But there'll be plenty of fights, with House conservatives wanting less and Democrats and business arguing that investing in infrastructure is a way to make the economy grow.

Armed Services. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California will take over, promising many hearings into U.S. military policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of particular interest to McKeon is how supplemental war funds are being spent and accounted for and the work of private security firms in Afghanistan. Look for McKeon and Republican leaders to work to push back the July 2011 drawdown date for troop removal in Afghanistan. McKeon will also protect costly missile defense programs and projects.

Education and Labor. John Kline of Minnesota will lead the panel as it buckles down next year to review and rewrite the controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Kline wants to give states and local school districts much more flexibility. Many governors and state education officials have complained that the law, the main vehicle for federal aid for public schools, imposes difficult and unfunded mandates. On labor issues, Kline is an outspoken critic of Democratic-backed union "card check" legislation to make it easier for union organizing at private companies. He'll block Democratic efforts in this area. Also, Kline wants to hold several hearings on federal and state job training programs to see whether they are effective. He will also hold oversight hearings next year on enforcement issues at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The ranking Democrat on the panel will be George Miller (D-CA), one of the more prominent liberals in the House and a close associate of outgoing Speaker Pelosi. Figure on many party-line votes in the committee.

Agriculture. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma will get the gavel and the two-year assignment of developing a new farm bill that will set federal agriculture policy for five years. Lucas supports many farm subsidy programs, but it's an area where some cutting looks certain. Deficit hawks next year will be especially eyeing about $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers. The direct payments were part of the 1996 farm bill and were intended to be temporary transition payments to farmers but have been extended several times. Lucas also intends to hold a series of hearings over the EPA's oversight of farm issues, which he often describes as excessive.

Oversight and Government Reform. Darrell Issa of California will ascend to the chairmanship, and he promises lots of high profile hearings into the Obama administration, Pentagon security leaks, health care implementation, political influence in the White House and more. Issa has been a near constant thorn in the side of the Obama White House for the past two years, often serving as a GOP policy voice on political matters.



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