Republicans May Take Over Powerful Committees

Tuesday, 26 Oct 2010 11:50 AM

 

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If Republicans win control of the Houseor Senate from President Barack Obama's Democrats in the Nov. 2 election, they will take over those chambers' powerful committees.

Committee chairs, working with party leaders, set agendas and take the lead in drafting laws in their jurisdictions — from defense and education to farming and banking.

They can also call investigative hearings on a variety of matters, including federal programs, suspected corporate wrongdoing or White House actions, and seek subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify.

Here is a look at some possible new chairmen in a Republican-led House and Senate and what they might do:

House Appropriations — Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, elected to the House in 1978, would need a waiver to become chairman because of Republican term limits on committee positions. If he doesn't get it, next in line could be Hal Rogers of Kentucky.

Regardless who ends up as chair, the job will be to slash spending. Republicans vow to save $100 billion next year by cutting U.S. spending to 2008 levels, with exceptions for programs for the elderly, U.S. troops and military veterans. The committee decides spending for various federal programs.

House Budget — Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, one of the House Republican "Young Guns," probably would chair this panel, which sets overall federal spending targets and estimates U.S. tax revenues. Determined to cut record U.S. deficits, Ryan has offered "A Roadmap for America's Future" that calls for gradually raising the retirement age to 70, reducing future Social Security benefits for the rich and capping Medicare and Medicaid benefits. Democrats have blasted the plan, and many Republicans have been reluctant to back it — at least so far.

House Financial Services — Spencer Bachus of Alabama seems likely to chair the committee, taking the gavel from Democrat Barney Frank, a chief architect of Obama's crackdown on Wall Street that included tightening of regulation of the financial industry.

Bachus has said he would try to roll back portions of the sweeping law and overhaul the housing finance system.

House Oversight and Government Reform — Darrell Issa of California vows a much more inquiring committee next year if, as expected, Republicans win the House and he takes over as chairman. Republicans are expected to push a bevy of probes, including one into what it denounces as Obama's failed $814 billion economic stimulus program.

House Energy and Commerce — Joe Barton of Texas would need a waiver to chair the panel because of Republican term limits, and that might be tough. He riled Republicans as well as Democrats in June when he apologized to BP, saying it had been the victim of a White House "shake down" by having to set aside a $20 billion fund for victims of its Gulf oil spill.

If Barton doesn't become chairman, the job probably would go to Fred Upton of Michigan. Regardless of who gets the job, Republicans are likely to make a renewed push for nuclear energy and opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

House Armed Services — Howard McKeon of California is in line to chair the panel, which will help oversees Obama's troop buildup in Afghanistan and planned withdrawal next year. As the panel's top Republican, McKeon unsuccessfully pushed this year to increase defense spending, particularly on ballistic missiles.

House Foreign Affairs — Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the first Cuban-American and the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress, is in line to chair the committee. A member of the House since 1989, she opposes legislation to ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba.

House Ways and Means — Dave Camp of Michigan, a key figure in the 1996 overhaul of the U.S. welfare system, is in line to chair this panel that writes tax laws. Camp would take a lead role in Republicans' drive to create jobs by reducing taxes. He also promises to push for approval of free-trade agreements drafted during the Bush administration with Panama, Colombia and South Korea that have been blocked by Democrats.

A Republican-run panel also would be pivotal to the party's bid to repeal Obama's healthcare law or parts of it.

Senate Armed Services — Republican John McCain, whom Barack Obama defeated in the 2008 White House race, probably would become chairman. McCain has been a critic of Obama on matters from financial regulation to healthcare. He backs Obama's buildup of troops in Afghanistan, but opposes his plans to begin withdrawing troops next year.

Senate Judiciary — Charles Grassley, a social and fiscal conservative, appears likely to chair the panel if Republicans gain the majority. As a member of the committee, Grassley opposed Obama's two successful Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

With Republicans in charge of the Senate and Grassley as chairman, Obama would need to pick more moderate judicial nominees to win needed Republican support for confirmation.

Senate Budget — Jeff Sessions of Alabama gave Obama a tough time the past two years as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

Senate Energy — Richard Burr of North Carolina could rise to chairman. Some environmentalists say he could focus on nuclear energy at the expense of Big Oil, although he has been a major recipient of oil and gas industry campaign contributions.

Burr probably would push to include nuclear power in a "renewable electricity standard" bill requiring utilities to increase the use of alternative energy in their generating capacity.

Senate Banking — Richard Shelby of Alabama relishes the possibility of recapturing the chairmanship, a move Wall Street might welcome. Shelby opposed the tightening of regulation of the financial industry that Obama signed into law after it was narrowly approved by the Democratic-led panel.

Shelby told Reuters in September that, if he returns as chairman, he would not hesitate to haul the reform bill back for reassessment.

Senate Finance — Orrin Hatch of Utah probably will chair this tax-writing panel. Hatch is a staunch conservative, but has crossed the political aisle on occasion. He worked with late Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1997 on health insurance.

Senate Foreign Relations — Richard Lugar of Indiana, a leading voice on foreign affairs, may return as chairman of this panel. He headed it from 1985 to 1987 and from 2003 to 2007. If Lugar doesn't get the chairmanship, the gavel might go to Bob Corker of Tennessee.


© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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