Chairmen Face Changes, Challenges

Republican Steering Committee Chooses Leaders; Conference Votes Today

Posted December 7, 2010 at 6:52pm

The House Republican Steering Committee on Tuesday announced the new slate of committee chairmen, but the winners have their work cut out for them.

Not only will the chairmen have to deal with new Democratic counterparts atop the committee structure, they also will be responsible for cutting committee budgets, will have fewer members to help move legislation and most will be managing a smaller staff. The party must also pursue a more ambitious agenda than its predecessor as a result of its pledge to curb spending in the 112th Congress.

In addition, they will have to deal with a fully franchised minority since Republicans have promised to keep the process open, meaning — in theory — that amendments to major legislation will have to be debated at the committee level.

From a purely organizational standpoint, some chairmen are going to have tougher jobs than others, at least initially.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who will chair the Appropriations Committee, will not have it easy. In years past, wielding the Appropriations gavel was much more fun when the job was about apportioning Congressional spending, but that role has changed because House Republicans have vowed to cut spending.

In his bid against Reps. Jerry Lewis (Calif.) and Jack Kingston (Ga.) to lead the committee, Rogers went so far as to say he would cut spending to fiscal 2008 levels. Now Rogers will have to find a way to corral Republicans and Democrats on his committee to find places to cut federal spending without the advantage of giving away earmarks as sweeteners.

The earmark moratorium Republicans passed last month for the 112th Congress affects more than just the leader of the Appropriations Committee. The incoming chairmen of the Transportation and Infrastructure, Ways and Means, and other committees able to authorize spending will also have to navigate a difficult path that has traditionally been easier with earmark spending.

“Their mission changes to how do we trim the fat from the pie and how do we direct the agencies on spending,” one Republican lobbyist said.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the newly elected chairman of the Energy and Commerce panel, will have to fight off jurisdictional battles almost immediately since Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), incoming chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, has made a play for the Energy panel’s energy jurisdiction. Upton beat out Reps. John Shimkus (Ill.), Joe Barton (Texas) and Cliff Stearns (Fla.).

While the Appropriations panel will be focused on curbing spending, the Energy panel will also be tasked with aggressive oversight. Republicans are expected to use the committee as a central point of attack on the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency if it retains that jurisdiction.

Speaker-designate John Boehner said in a statement following the Steering panel’s meeting that chairmen performing well in their roles is critical.

“Like the incoming majority as a whole, this slate should and will be judged on its effectiveness in restoring a government worthy of the trust of the people it serves — one that honors our Constitution and stands up for the values that built a great nation: economic freedom, individual liberty, and personal responsibility,” the Ohio Republican said.

The slate of Steering Committee recommendations will have to be approved by the entire House Republican Conference before the positions are official.

That vote is scheduled for today.

After the chairmen are approved, they face a list of changes and tasks from Boehner and his deputies, according to a 20-question survey distributed to chairman candidates last week.

The survey sent from Boehner and Majority Leader-designate Eric Cantor (Va.) on Tuesday asked prospective chairmen to provide a detailed explanation of how they would lead their committees on a range of issues from staffing matters to oversight. The questionnaire discouraged the candidates from launching investigations that could be read as blatant partisan attacks.

Incoming chairmen also will be asked to hold their membership accountable — and will likely have to post member attendance and committee voting records online, the survey said.

“You should know that this will likely be adopted as a new rule by the Conference and that the Steering Committee may meet regularly to discuss Member performance in committees,” the survey noted.

While the survey asked whether the candidates would be comfortable with certain changes, members of leadership have made clear that chairmen will be required to keep them informed about the operations of their committee.