GOP Stars to Take Over Congressional Committees

Paul Ryan will head the House Committee on the Budget.

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When Republicans assume the leadership offices in January, they’ll have a chance to move some legislative stars to key committee chair slots. Committees that deal with economic or fiscal issues are especially prime real estate, as Congress is expected to clash over the budget and the federal deficit in the upcoming year.

For instance, Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, will get a chance to raise his status, which is already sky-high, by heading the House Committee on the Budget. Ryan has cultivated an image as the Republicans’ brain on economics and the federal budget, offering specific deficit reduction proposals. They’re not always popular. His deficit reduction plan, which includes drastic reforms to Medicare and large budget cuts, got some resistance from other House Republicans. But he’s earned props from conservative activists for offering specific proposals, and he became one of the most high-profile critics of Obama’s healthcare reform plan. “He’s a thoughtful public policy person, not just a political type,” says John Fortier, a scholar with the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. “He’s someone who wants to delve into big things.”

Dave Camp, the current ranking member of the House Committee on Ways and Means, is also a lock to become chair of what is traditionally the most powerful committee in the chamber. The 20-year Michigan representative is known for being one of the key architects of important legislation during the previous Republican reign in the House, and he will now get to head the committee just as Congress will likely be considering tax reform.

California Representative Darrell Issa will ascend to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a prime spot for those looking to needle the White House. Past chairmen such as Democrat Henry Waxman and Republican Dan Burton used the committee to create headache-inducing investigations into then-presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Issa has promised to do the same, although he also cautions that he won’t be using the committee for witch hunts. “Issa has not been shy about his differences with the Obama administration,” Fortier says. “Aside from the legislative battles, the biggest import of having one house [of Congress] is having oversight.”

Two important committees may be up for grabs. California Rep. Jerry Lewis, ranking member of the Committee on Appropriations, and Texas Rep. Joe Barton, ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, have both served three terms, which is the limit based on party rules. They still could serve if the House Republican Steering Committee, headed by soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner, decides to either grant them a waiver or not count their time in the minority against them. Boehner’s office won’t comment on whether or not the steering committee will grant waivers, but in a campaign where Republicans have blasted the current legislative system, voters might see it as hypocritical to grant exceptions to long-serving members.

If Lewis is barred from the chair, Harold Rogers of Kentucky is the most likely contender for the spot. If Barton is barred from serving, Fred Upton of Michigan and John Shimkus of Illinois are the two most likely candidates to chair the Energy and Commerce committee, which will play a key role in overseeing the implementation of the healthcare reform law.

Peter King, the outspoken New York Republican, will likely get to serve at least one term as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee--a post he held briefly in 2005 and 2006, before the Democrats took over the House the following year. Issues relating to national security and terrorism don’t seem to fade away, and the committee is likely to be a high-profile one in the next Congress.

Other ranking members likely to grab the chairperson slots include Oklahoma Representative Frank Lucas at Agriculture, Alabama Representative Spencer Bachus at Financial Services, Texas Representative Lamar Smith at Judiciary, and Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen at Foreign Affairs, and Dan Lungren for the House Administration.