When Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) was promoted in late May to serve as chairman of the House Administration Committee, he earned a couple of new titles in the process.
Obviously, he’s now “Mr. Chairman,” and more informally he has become “the mayor of Capitol Hill.”
But titles aren’t really Brady’s thing.
“I’ll answer to ‘Bob’ or ‘Hey you.’ … They call me many other things back in Philadelphia,” Brady said with a laugh during an interview in his Cannon Building office on Tuesday.
The Almanac of American Politics describes Brady as the personification of “old-fashioned urban politics,” a man who depicts himself as a “roll-up-your-sleeves guy who represents working class voters.”
It’s a style that Brady had hoped would carry him to Philadelphia’s City Hall, but in May he came in third in the primary for mayor of the City of Brotherly Love.
Now Brady seems content to bring his no-nonsense — some might even say gruff — leadership style to his new “mayoral” duties on Capitol Hill.
Although serving on House Administration often is considered a steppingstone to other leadership posts — Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is a former ranking member on the committee, as is Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman John Larson (Conn.), while former Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) previously wielded the gavel — the day-to-day work of the panel usually is less than glamorous.
A large part of the job consists of responding to Members’ concerns about House operations. So far, that has included a request to add more voting boxes on the House floor — Brady looked into the idea and nixed it when it became clear that the entire chamber would have to be rewired — and a concern from a fellow Member that Capitol Hill’s trash cans aren’t emptied often enough.
But the chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party sees the value in that part of the job.
“Members come to you for favors and different things from one extreme to the other,” Brady said. “I make friends. I make relationships, like I do in Philadelphia. And relationships in Washington are very important. This is an opportunity to make relationships.”
(Interestingly, the Speaker’s point man on Capitol Hill operations prefers to make the drive back to his West Philadelphia home on a weeknight rather than stick around Washington, D.C., for a cocktail party.)
The House Administration chairman also is tasked with overseeing the dozen or so legislative branch agencies. And as a man who rose through the ranks of union leadership, Brady already has taken a keen interest in labor concerns within those agencies.
He said he wants the Government Printing Office management to quickly resolve its ongoing contract negotiations with several of its various labor organizations. He’s nixed a proposal that had been floating around in high levels of the Capitol Police Department that would no longer allow rank-and-file officers to wear shorts and baseball hats as part of their uniforms on hot summer days. And, perhaps most importantly to many, he thinks the clerks, the doorkeepers, “the people who run the Members Dining Room” and other career employees who operate the nonpolitical institutions of Congress are “grossly underpaid.”
In general, Brady — who stands at 6-foot-2-inches and is a bear of a man — said, “We’ve got to worry about the little people. I’m a little guy. I caught a break. I got lucky. … I would like to think that I can make sure some of the people who weren’t so lucky can have a decent chance.”
After a tumultuous period of committee leadership in which House Administration has had four chairmen in 18 months — and after some minority members recently began expressing concerns that other committees were poaching on their jurisdiction — Brady’s two main messages seem to be “we’re back” and “we’re going to get it done.”
That a void had existed at the House Administration Committee is clear, but Brady is quick to point out that such a period of transition was completely reasonable considering the fact that the late Chairwoman Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) — whom he called “an absolutely gracious lady” — was organizing the committee at the same time that she was battling the cancer that eventually took her life in late April. The news came as an unexpected shock to most Members, including Brady.
After Millender-McDonald’s death “we had some staff issues we had to deal with,” Brady acknowledged. “She didn’t have the chance to fill them all. The lady got sick and what the lady tried to do was stay alive. Can you blame her for that?”
But during the ensuing transition, the panel’s minority Republicans, led by ranking member Vernon Ehlers (Mich.), were pushing for the committee to be more involved in Congress’ administrative issues, including the Capitol Visitor Center project.
During the 110th Congress, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch took the lead on Congressional oversight of the facility which, after years of cost overruns and missed deadlines, is now expected to open in the fall of 2008.
But as the project begins to move away from construction to operations, Ehlers — who served as chairman of the panel for the latter half of the 109th Congress — urged Brady in a May letter to reassert House Administration’s role in the project.
Ehlers also encouraged Brady to reassert committee oversight at the Smithsonian Institute — which the Senate Rules and Administration Committee had already held a hearing on — and to help jump-start the stalled merger between the Library of Congress Police and Capitol Police.
Ehlers later brought his jurisdictional concerns up on the floor of the House during the vote on the fiscal 2008 legislative branch appropriations bill.
He said there’s an “emerging pattern whereby report language is being used to establish administrative policy that was never intended to be a matter before the Appropriations Committee. If continued, this creates a duplicative oversight function [and] threatens to severely hamper the oversight ability of the House Administration Committee.”
Later during that debate, Brady responded to Ehlers’ concerns, noting that he had “been assured and am extremely comfortable with the fact that [along with the House Appropriations subcommittee] we will be together working out our jurisdictional problems.”
Since that exchange, House Administration has held one hearing on the police merger, and Brady is planning an upcoming hearing on the Smithsonian.
And on Tuesday, Brady said House Administration would be closely involved in the CVC as the project moves toward its opening date.
“I’m not going to let them run wild” as the Architect of the Capitol works to finish the CVC, he said. “We’re back. … And I’m not putting that on anybody, it’s just what happened. We’re exactly where we need to be. We’re getting the proper respect from everybody that’s involved in this.”
Correction: July 18
In the above article, Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) was incorrectly identified as the former chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Party. He is still the chairman.