Washington Matters


GOP Eyes House Chairmanships

Richard Sammon

Chairmen would wield enormous power and influence if GOP Rep. John Boehner becomes speaker.



Republicans aren’t only anticipating winning back the House. They are presently planning the details and leaders of an energized new majority team, should they win the gavels back in the midterm election. Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, the presumed speaker-in-waiting if the GOP wins control, is fast assembling a likely roster of chairmen to develop legislation defining the party’s agenda on domestic policy, taxes, defense and foreign policy.

Boehner would be a different speaker in style and strategy than Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has wielded much direct power and influence over the Democratic House. For starters, Boehner promises to decentralize control, spreading the power of legislative and policy influence. Instead of a small leadership circle directing the agenda, committee chairmen would be empowered to develop their own legislation, working the particulars and the overall planks of major bills and hearings that would be called. Though a Democratic Senate and White House would probably block many initiatives of a GOP House, likely Republican chairmen are already planning an aggressive strategy.

Appropriations. Rep. Jerry Lewis of San Bernardino County, Calif., is the senior Republican and a former chairman of the committee. He’ll play one of the most central roles in budgeting and spending matters for the GOP. A long-time promoter of Pentagon spending, look for Lewis to block likely attempts from both sides of the aisle to make large cuts in defense. In a budget showdown, which is very likely next year, Lewis will insist on a near freeze in domestic spending, minus defense.

Ways and Means. Potential contenders to head the tax writing committee include Dave Camp of Michigan, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. All are rising stars in the GOP camp, and whoever gets the post is sure to work hard to make the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent, even in the face of a veto threat from the Obama administration. Also a possibility: Wally Herger of California, who has long pushed for simplifying the tax code. Central in the committee’s work will be entitlement reform and health care law changes -- each a tall order to pass.

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Energy and Commerce. Texans Joe Barton and Ralph Hall are at the top of the list, although Barton may have ruined his chances by defending BP after the Gulf disaster. Either would aggressively pursue expanded domestic and offshore oil and gas exploration.

Agriculture. Rep. Frank Lucas, a 16-year member of the House and a former farmer and rancher from Oklahoma, would be chairman. He supports the main farm subsidy and price support programs and would try to shield them from being targeted by budget hawks for deficit reduction next year. He’d also develop the next huge farm bill, most likely in 2012 with expansions in crop insurance, rural development projects and agriculture research.

Oversight and Government Reform. As chairman, Darrell Issa of San Diego, another rising star in the party, would use the committee’s power to launch several investigations into the Obama administration, particularly relating to industry bailouts and economic stimulus spending decisions.

Armed Services. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of Los Angeles is likely to get the nod. McKeon has long been the go-to guy on Capitol Hill for large defense contractors, including many located in southern California. McKeon and Lewis of Appropriations have long been close colleagues in the House. They’ll each have a hand in directing billions of dollars in defense spending.

Rules Committee. David Dreier of northern Los Angeles would head the panel that sets the parameters for all floor debate in the House. Dreier is a reliable conservative vote and one of Boehner’s most loyal colleagues. He’s also a major fundraiser for the Republican Party. While he often shuns the national media spotlight, Dreier would be one of the most powerful members of a GOP House, helping steer legislation, strategy and debate from a committee perch that has outsize influence, despite the often quiet and less-reported way it operates.




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