WASHINGTON — The Republican takeover of the House means a complete turnover in committee chairmen, with the new, and sometimes returning, GOP chairmen coming in armed with the promise from their leaders that they will no longer be an afterthought.
Just who winds up where won't be made official until the new Congress takes office in January. But jockeying for key positions will be going on when the current Congress returns Nov. 15 for a lame-duck session.
Ohio Rep. John Boehner, positioned to succeed Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker, has pledged that committee chairmen will regain the authority they have lost in past decades.
Rep. Greg Walden, who is heading the House GOP transition team, said Boehner would end the practice of bills being written in the speaker's office behind closed doors and move bill-writing authority back to committees.
There are also two committee chairmanship openings in the Senate, which stayed under Democratic control. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has expressed interest in heading the Agriculture Committee after Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln was defeated Tuesday. North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and senior to Stabenow on agriculture, may be in the running as well.
Next in line to take over the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, vacated by retiring Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, is Tim Johnson, a three-term conservative Democrat from South Dakota. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, has also been mentioned, perhaps as a top Johnson lieutenant or in a role where he would share leadership duties with Johnson.
Profiles of the possible new House committee chairmen and their agendas:
Frank Lucas of Oklahoma was born and raised on the farm that has been in his family since early in the 20th Century. He fought President Barack Obama's plan to repeal some farm subsidies and limit direct payments to those with high incomes. He wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that it "seems clear that during an economic crisis, this administration is intent on helping everyone but those who live and work in rural America."
Reps. Jerry Lewis of California and Hal Rogers of Kentucky both see themselves as chairman. Each has championed pet projects decried by tea partiers and many conservatives as wasteful spending but both say they would extend the House GOP caucus's temporary moratorium against them.
The committee, one of the most powerful in Congress, prioritizes spending across the government. Rogers has vowed to cut discretionary spending to levels that existed prior to the financial bailout and stimulus program — perhaps even further. Lewis became the committee's chairman in 2005 but his tenure was short-lived.
Howard "Buck" McKeon's major work has been on the Education and Labor Committee, but he has been active on military issues. The California lawmaker sought to make sure that Gen. David Petraeus had enough troops for his counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. He wants an accurate measurement of the security and political situations in that country. He also seeks to make sure that U.S. and Iraqi forces sustain their security gains. He believes the U.S. should develop and fortify long-term security and economic relationships with Iraq.
Paul Ryan's most controversial proposal is to give workers under 55 the option of investing a third of their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts. They would be managed by the Social Security Administration, and the government would guarantee that nobody loses money. The Wisconsin lawmaker wants to place firm limits on discretionary and mandatory spending, and enforce the limits with automatic spending reductions in programs with the highest spending growth.
EDUCATION AND LABOR
John Kline's ascension will be a major blow to unions after the liberal, pro-labor chairmanship of George Miller. Kline, of Minnesota, is strongly opposed to so-called card check legislation — a top labor priority that would require companies to recognize a union once a workplace majority signs union cards. Kline wants to scale back the role of the federal government in education, loosen federal mandates and red tape. He supports teacher performance pay and charter schools.
ENERGY AND COMMERCE
Texan Joe Barton's chances are seriously hurt by his apology to BP during a hearing on the Gulf oil spill. His main rival, Fred Upton of Michigan, would be far less controversial. No matter who gets this chairmanship, the committee will be far different from the panel run by the Democrats' most ferocious investigator, Henry Waxman of California. Upton pledges to stop what he calls job-killing regulations and remove regulatory authority from nonelected bureaucrats. Barton says his "Job No. 1 is to repeal the Obama health care law and start over."
Spencer Bachus of Alabama would take over for the fiery, fast-talking, Democratic chairman Barney Frank. The incoming chairman wants to end the taxpayer bailouts of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Bachus says he wants to conduct investigations that committee Democrats wouldn't do, including into aspects of insurer AIG's bailout that benefited foreign creditors over those in the U.S.
As the top Republican on this panel, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Cuban-born and the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress, has backed the war in Iraq, pushed hard for implementing sanctions against Iran and Syria and called for reforms at the United Nations. Ros-Lehtinen has joined other Cuban-American lawmakers in opposing any proposals to improve relations with the Havana government as long as it is headed by the Castros.
Peter King of New York wants to derail the administration's plans to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the United States and put them on trial in civilian courts. He would conduct hearings on the shooting rampage by Maj. Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood and other issues he says the Democrats have ignored. He wants to consolidate oversight of homeland security programs now scattered over several congressional committees.
Conservative Lamar Smith of Texas will take over from one of the most liberal chairmen, Democrat John Conyers of Michigan. The incoming chairman's priorities are from the traditional Republican playbook: Keep the detention center open at Guantanamo Bay; hold military rather than civilian trials for detainees; stringently enforce immigration laws at work sites; reform patent laws to stop the theft of intellectual property and reduce health care costs by limiting malpractice lawsuits.
Doc Hastings is set to take over this a low-profile panel that has jurisdiction over most federal land and water policy, covering national parks, wilderness areas and Indian reservations. Hastings, 69, a former head of the ethics committee, is a strong advocate of expanding American energy resources, including through offshore drilling. He heads the House's nuclear cleanup caucus — his district in Washington includes the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which formerly produced plutonium for atomic weapons and now is the site of a major environmental cleanup project.
OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM
California's Darrell Issa leaves no doubt that he'll change the direction of a committee that — to no one's surprise — did little to investigate the Obama administration. If administration officials refuse to cooperate, Issa could use his subpoena power. Issa says he wants to investigate stimulus spending, the financial bailout and the health care overhaul, for starters. Some Democrats have said Issa's goal is to bring down the Obama administration. He denies it, saying it's Congress' responsibility to oversee the executive branch.
David Dreier, an expert on parliamentary procedure, returns as chairman of the Rules Committee, a post he held for eight years before the Democrats gained the majority in 2007. He needled Democrats for limiting Republican amendments and time for floor debates and says he will push for a more open process, including allowing cameras in Rules Committee meetings and allowing unlimited amendments on spending bills.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Texan Ralph Hall, at 87 the oldest member in Congress, is poised to take over this panel which oversees energy and environmental issues, science education and space policy. Hall, an aircraft carrier pilot, is one of the few remaining members of Congress to have served in World War II. He is a stalwart supporter of the Texas oil and gas industry and pushed for opening Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. He's criticized Obama's plan to commercialize some space missions.
Two Republicans are vying for its chairmanship. William "Mac" Thornberry, 52, whose family runs a cattle ranch in northern Texas, and Mike Rogers, 47, of Michigan. Thornberry proposed creating a new Homeland Security Department six months before the Sept. 11 attack. Rogers served in the Army in the 1980s before going to work for the FBI, investigating public corruption as part of the Chicago bureau's organized crime unit. He was an active player in moving the anti-terrorist Patriot Act and in legislation on wiretapping.
Sam Graves, a 10-year congressman from northwest Missouri is in line to take over this once minor panel that has gained in prominence as both Congress and the White House look to small businesses as a key developer of new jobs. Graves, 46, is a sixth-generation farmer who still helps out on the family farm when he returns to his district.
With five members from each party, the ethics committee is supposed to leave partisanship outside the door as it investigates potential ethical wrongdoing. Incoming chairman Jo Bonner of Alabama and committee Republicans demanded pre-election trials this summer for two prominent Democrats charged with ethics violations but were rebuffed by the Democratic chairman, Zoe Lofgren of California.
TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
The largest committee in the House would be headed by John Mica, who will have to find ways to finance a new highway and mass transit bill and oversee such diverse areas as aviation safety, the Coast Guard, emergency management, railroads and water resources. Mica, 67, is a solid conservative on most issues, but has worked closely with the departing chairman, Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., in promoting infrastructure spending. He has generally backed the Obama administration's efforts to fund high-speed rail projects, including one that would run through his home state of Florida.
Jeff Miller, a 51-year-old conservative from the Florida Panhandle, is seen as a leading candidate to head the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Miller, a former real estate broker and deputy sheriff, has a large veteran population in his district and since coming to Congress has championed legislation to improve benefits for military personnel, veterans and their families.
WAYS AND MEANS
The next chairman will likely be Dave Camp, 57, a 20-year House veteran from Michigan. His reputation for getting along with people will be tested at Ways and Means, a notoriously partisan committee responsible for such divisive issues as health care, taxes, trade and Social Security. In the 1990s he played a key role in writing GOP legislation to overhaul the welfare system.
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