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GOP Transition to Power Might Be Smoother Than 1994

If House Republicans wrest the Speaker’s gavel from the Democratic Party in November, they promise that the 112th Congress will be marked by slashes to the legislative branch budget.

And though “A Pledge to America” lacks specifics about where the cuts will land, the transition of 1994 may provide an indication of what Republicans’ priorities are and how a 2011 Republican transition may be smoother than the last.

When the GOP seized power for the first time in 40 years in the 1994 midterm elections, there was not a single House Republican who had experienced a majority, let alone a transition to power. Institutional knowledge was thin, acting House Historian Fred Beuttler said.

“There’s a great story of [then-Speaker] Newt Gingrich [R-Ga.] going around door-to-door in the Capitol because Republicans had never seen the inside of so many of the rooms,” Beuttler said. “This is not the case now.”

These days, several Republicans were committee chairmen just two Congresses ago, with some involved in the details of Gingrich’s transition to power. That list includes the man who could be the next Speaker.

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) spent several years on the House Administration Committee, which oversees the day-to-day functions of the House.

He also led the “personnel committee” during the 1994 transition. The group examined offices and jobs controlled by the majority, determining which to eliminate.

In 1994, the biggest cut landed on committee staffers: One-third were deemed expendable.

“Now, the question is whether a lot of the administrative overhead of running Congress as a whole can be looked at for slimming and whether or not committee staffs have now grown again to the point where there needs to be potential savings,” said ex-Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.), who was a part of the 1994 transition team.

He said it would be hard to lay off staff in the busy new Capitol Visitor Center, which didn’t exist in 1994, or the Capitol Police, which must contend with more serious security concerns.

Though they wouldn’t speculate on specifics, Republican Reps. Robert Aderholt (Ala.) and Dan Lungren (Calif.) — who would, if re-elected, presumably lead the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch and the House Administration Committee, respectively, in a Republican-led House — both said they are ready to trim Congress’ operating costs.

Another priority, said Republican Leadership Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.), would be to meet with the House’s Chief Administrative Officer, Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms.

“If I were running the show, I would start by bringing in the various executives of the different departments and say, ‘OK, what have you identified [for cuts]?'” Walden said.

In 1994, Republicans eliminated “patronage” positions, such as the Office of the Doorkeeper; ditched services such as ice deliveries to Members’ officers; and professionalized the House administrative structure by creating the position of Chief Administrative Officer.

“For the first time in the history of the House, when [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] came in, she kept the chief administrative structure,” Beuttler said. “She replaced the top person, or the top couple people, but she kept the structure intact.”

Beuttler said he doesn’t expect drastic institutional changes if the GOP takes control, but there likely will be some new faces in top administrative positions.

Acting CAO Dan Strodel and Clerk Lorraine Miller would likely be booted, several former Members and other sources said. But House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, installed by Gingrich, and Chaplain Daniel Coughlin, chosen by ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), both survived the 2007 Democratic transition and could survive another, observers said.

“You do get a change in orientation sometimes, if one administration is focused, for example, on greening the Capitol and trying to have zero carbon footprint of the building itself,” Beuttler said. “That’s the current majority’s program. And it hasn’t been what Mr. Boehner has been talking about.”

The Office of the House Historian was “gutted” under Gingrich, Beuttler said, but Boehner is more of a booster of the office.

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