Big Changes in Store for House Committee Chairmanships

Monday, 09 Jun 2014 11:20 AM

By John Gizzi

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With Republicans likely to maintain their majority in the House of Representatives this fall, one of the biggest guessing games is who will take over the chairmanships of key House committees, including Armed Services, Natural Resources, Intelligence, and the all-powerful, tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

The numerous openings for panel heads are the legacy of the Republicans' celebrated "Class of '94," which retook the House running on the Contract With America.

The first Republican majority in the House in 40 years enacted term limits for committee chairmen: three two-year terms, with a "waiver" from the House leadership permitting a fourth and absolutely final term.

The term limit rule has clearly had an impact on the current slate of House Republicans. Many "termed out" chairmen have decided not to go back to being simply a U.S. representative with reduced staff and smaller office and opted to retire from Congress altogether.

Three Republican chairmen of powerful committees that have fallen into the "termed out" column this year are leaving Congress.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California will leave the helm of the House Armed Services Committee and will almost surely be replaced by fellow committee member Mac Thornberry of Texas. A veteran of congressional staffs and the Reagan administration, Thornberry is widely respected for his knowledge of the Pentagon and his fearlessness in calling for a firmer hand on waste in defense spending.

The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, is also leaving Congress. The early favorite to succeed him is Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, a favorite of the tea party, and like Hastings, no friend of the environmentalist movement.

But it is the maneuvering to succeed retiring Michigan Rep. Dave Camp as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee that is fast becoming one of the most-watched events among Washington insiders.

By most accounts, the Ways and Means perch is Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's for the asking. Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee and current chairman of the House Budget Committee, is by far his party's best-known face on budget and tax matters. Indeed, the "Ryan Budget" is now part of the political lexicon as a Republican alternative to the White House budget, although not embraced by all in the lawmaker's party.

But Texas Rep. Kevin Brady is not accepting a Ryan accession at Ways and Means as a fait accompli. Brady is a vigorous fundraiser for colleagues and is reportedly outpacing Ryan in terms of helping congressional candidates fatten their re-election campaign accounts.

"There's an embarrassment of riches in the race to fill Dave Camp's shoes," former Republican Rep. Phil English of Pennsylvania, a past member of Ways and Means and a friend to both Ryan and Brady, told Newsmax.

"With Paul Ryan, one has one of the most prominent of Republican voices on tax and budget matters. With Kevin Brady, one has one of the most respected workhorses in the House. This is the A team for pro-growth economic policy and fundamental tax reform," English said.

Should Ryan move up, his budget chairmanship would become open, and there would be another scrap for a pivotal perch in the House.

Following the November elections, committee chairmen will be determined in a closed-door meeting by the House Republican Steering Committee, which is made up of the party's leadership in the House and chaired by the House speaker, who with five votes on the committee plays the biggest role in the process.

The speaker, and not the Steering Committee, will get to appoint the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. With Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers retiring, the two reported front-runners for the job are Devin Nunes of California and Mike Pompeo of Kansas, both currently members of the committee.

Rather than cultivating colleagues, Nunes and Pompeo are burnishing their own images through media interviews on subjects ranging from the National Security Agency to Ukraine.

The choice of committee chairmen for these House panels is important in terms of policy and political salesmanship. House committee chairmen will be players in shaping policy issues and articulating in print, on talk radio, and Sunday news shows.

Republican lawmakers still argue about whether the complex insiders' game that now picks most chairmen is preferable to the old "seniority system," in which the most senior member of the committee becomes chairman.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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