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Dreier May Spark Committee Shuffle

While Rep. David Dreier has of late become best known for his role in aiding Arnold Schwarzenegger’s historic gubernatorial win, the California lawmaker’s own moves on Capitol Hill in the next few years will be just as closely watched by his fellow House Republicans.

Having chaired the Rules Committee since 1999, Dreier’s gavel tenure will soon bump up against the GOP Conference’s six-year term limit. Assuming he remains in the House (most of his colleagues expect he will, despite some speculation to the contrary), Dreier could win a waiver to remain Rules chairman, aim for another slot in the party leadership or even end up taking over the Financial Services Committee.

The options available to Dreier, whose office did not return a call seeking comment for this story, will largely be dependent on the decisions of others, particularly those of Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.), Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin (La.) and Financial Services Chairman Mike Oxley (Ohio). And Dreier’s path could in turn affect those of several other GOP lawmakers.

The first move on the board will be made by Hastert, who will have to decide whether to grant Dreier a waiver to retain the Rules gavel for a fourth term.

“There is no clear next step,” said a senior GOP leadership aide. “There’d probably be a fair amount of sympathy toward giving him a waiver because he’s done such a good job.”

Rules is controlled by the Speaker and is not subject to the normal Steering process, so Hastert could conceivably grant Dreier a waiver without prompting other term-limited Members, such as Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.), to expect one as well.

“You could make the argument that Rules is different,” the aide said.

The last term-limit waiver to have been approved was given to Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss (Fla.) for the current Congress, and his panel is also appointed by the Speaker.

Hastert may give serious consideration to leaving Dreier atop Rules because there is no consensus choice to replace him, according to several senior lawmakers and aides. Goss, who is retiring, is second on the Rules GOP roster. Following him are Reps. John Linder (Ga.), Deborah Pryce (Ohio) — who already serves as Conference Chairwoman — and Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Fla.).

While Linder is seen as a hard worker and a loyal party soldier, some Members and leadership staffers suggested he might not excel at the cajoling and back-slapping that play an essential role in the Rules chairmanship. The same was said of Diaz-Balart. To find a lawmaker who truly fits their desired profile, GOP leaders might have to go all the way down the list to Rep. Doc Hastings (Wash.), who is sixth in seniority.

For their part, neither Linder nor Diaz-Balart is lobbying for the job at this point.

“I’d love it” if it was offered, Linder said, “[but] it’s the Speaker’s call.”

During his 2002 GOP primary race against then-Rep. Bob Barr, Linder regularly touted the idea that he would be the next Rules chairman.

Diaz-Balart said, “I’m really not thinking about that. I’m honored to serve under David Dreier.”

Rules isn’t the only committee Dreier could chair in the near future. The Californian has been on leave from what is now called Financial Services since he joined Rules in the 102nd Congress. That would put him behind only Oxley, former Chairman Jim Leach (Iowa) and Rep. Doug Bereuter (Neb.) on that panel’s seniority list.

Regardless of when he leaves the Rules post, Dreier could make a strong play for Financial Services when Oxley hits his own term limit after the 109th Congress. That might mean spurning Rep. Richard Baker (La.), who made a brief bid for the gavel four years ago and has since positioned himself to make another run when Oxley exits.

Both Dreier’s and Oxley’s future plans are also tied to those of a third chairman — Tauzin. While the Louisiana lawmaker has vowed to run for re-election next year, rumors persist on and off the Hill that he could move to the private sector during either this or the next Congress.

That would open up the top slot on Energy and Commerce, the post which Tauzin and Oxley battled so fiercely for in 2000. A successful attempt by Oxley to replace Tauzin atop Energy and Commerce would frustrate Rep. Joe Barton’s (R-Texas) own hopes for that job.

However, despite his previous quest for Energy and Commerce, lawmakers close to Oxley said it was by no means assured that he would seek to make such a move. Those lawmakers pointed out that a majority of the issues most important to Oxley were transferred to Financial Services’ jurisdiction in 2001.

Even if Energy and Commerce is taken out of the equation, a Rules Committee waiver would provide Dreier with a smooth transition, allowing him to go directly from that panel to Financial Services. The Speaker could then hand Rules to a new chairman in the 110th Congress.

“I don’t know that there would be anybody unhappy about [Dreier] staying” at Rules, said a senior Republican aide.

If by some chance there is no gavel available to Dreier in 2005, one Member suggested Hastert could choose to give him an appointed leadership post, perhaps something akin to Rep. Rob Portman’s (Ohio) current position as Elected Leadership Chairman.

Back in California, some Republicans believe in the afterglow of Schwarzenegger’s victory that Dreier would be an attractive candidate to challenge Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) in 2004. With his charisma and champion fundraising abilities — he has $2.6 million on reserve in his House re-election committee — Dreier’s name has long been mentioned in connection with a variety of statewide races.

But Dreier has always demurred in the past, and he has given no indication that he plans to jump into the race this time. Even with his profile, a contest against Boxer would be extremely difficult, and House Republicans who know Dreier well describe him as exceedingly risk-averse.

K Street could also beckon to Dreier, who has been a leader on free-market economic issues and would surely have top trade associations and lobbying firms vying for his services if he chose to go that route.

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