The first task ahead for presumptive speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner is to put his leadership team together. This includes not just the members of the elected leadership but the various committee chairmen--who have the front line responsibility for pushing GOP legislative proposals and carrying out oversight responsibilities.
If Boehner, as speaker, is largely responsible for the GOP’s vision and the elected party leadership is collectively responsible for developing strategies and projects, it is the committee chairmen who will be the chief tacticians, doing what is required on a daily basis to move things in the direction they need to go.
It is fairly clear that Boehner, current House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, and California’s Kevin McCarthy will move into the GOP’s top slots. Below that, however, things start to get interesting. [See where McCarthy gets his campaign money.]
Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, a former head of the conservative House Republican Study Committee and Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann, a favorite of the Tea Party movement, are facing off over the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference, a position currently held but being vacated by Rep. Mike Pence, who is widely expected to run for governor of Indiana in two years. [See who supports Pence.]
The Hensarling-Bachmann contest is not so much one of values but of style, symbolically important to the Tea Party voters even though Bachmann starts out behind. Hensarling has some powerful support from rising starts like Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, who sent a letter of endorsement on Hensarling’s behalf. “Jeb's economic expertise and strong ability to communicate are what we need in our conference chairman to articulate our unified commitment to get our country back on track,” Ryan wrote in the letter.
There is also a contest for the chairmanship of the House Policy Committee, which, while not the most important of offices, is nevertheless a member of the elected leadership who sits in and has a vote in the leadership meetings. Right now it looks like Florida’s Connie Mack and Georgia Republican Tom Price, who currently leads the the House Republican Study Committee, are in the race--whose outcome is not easily predicted either.
Battling over the Appropriations chairmanship are California’s Jerry Lewis and Kentucky’s Hal Rogers, both of who are considered suspect by many of the GOP’s rank and file over a perceived willingness to spend money. Both are campaigning on their willingness to cut spending but, truth be told, there is a pronounced lack of trust between the members of the committee and the rank-and-file members of the GOP, who are more likely to consider the committee a problem rather than the place where solutions are found. One option available to the leadership is to follow the lead of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who in 1994 jumped over several more senior members of the committee to hand the job to Louisiana Republican Bob Livingston Some, like RedState.com’s Erick Erickson, have suggested, and not without merit, that Boehner follow the Gingrich model and reach down the committee to give the job to Georgia Republican Jack Kingston who, Erickson says, “was the only Appropriations cardinal to turn in budgets balanced or in surplus.”
Another fight is brewing over the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where the current ranking member and former chairman Joe Barton of Texas is seeking a waiver of the term limits for chairmen that would allow him to retain the gavel. [See which industries contribute to Barton.]
Barton, who fell out of favor with the GOP leadership over his comments in defense of BP and its workers during the Gulf oil spill, is thought unlikely, Capitol Hill insiders say, to get what he wants, meaning another current member of the committee will likely be given the job.
Who that will be is being intensely debated, especially given the role the committee may play in leading GOP efforts to roll back Obamacare, or at least delay its implementation, and in blocking efforts to enact President Barack Obama’s cap-and-trade energy tax that, if adopted, would only further cripple the U.S. economy.
Leading the list of potential chairmen is Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who has been waging a hard campaign to win the post. Conservatives like Erickson regard him, however, “as unacceptable to every single conservative I know. He is a union lackey and bad on virtually every fiscal issue.” Upton, in his defense, says he’ll take on the White House directly over climate policy, promising in one recent column to bring White House Climate Czar Carol Browner before the committee repeatedly.
He has also fought back by burnishing his Reaganite credentials in a lengthy handout that has been given wide circulation around town but, because Upton is a supporter of abortion rights, there are certain members of the House Conference as well as a number of outside groups who remain intractably opposed to his being handed the gavel.
Again, as in the case of who will chair the Appropriations Panel, the alternatives are not clear. Other names apparently in contention for the post include Pennsylvania’s Joe Pitts, Florida’s Cliff Stearns, and Illinois’s John Shimkus, who appears to be shaping up as the leading alternative to those who do not want Upton to have the gavel.
The decisions are not Boehner’s alone. The House Republican Conference will choose its elected leadership for the upcoming 112th Congress at an organizing conference set for the week of November 15. It is also expected, but not yet confirmed, says a senior GOP leadership aide, that the Republican Conference may also consider and vote on a package of new conference rules. It may also establish the process for the selection of new committee chairs, known as the Committee on Committees. That process could continue though early December, which means the electioneering will continue and the suggestions for who should run what will continue to mount. What most of the outside groups who think they have a say in such matters don’t realize is that these are intensely personal decisions for House members, based on longtime friendship, long and apparently forgotten slights, state and regional loyalties, and just plain old-fashioned deal making. They can make their wishes known but their ability to have an impact on how these races turn out may be less than they think.