Conservatives Press Boehner on Committee Chairmanships

He might favor putting place committee chairmen who heard the message of 2010.

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A number of prominent conservatives are pushing the Ohio Republican John Boehner, the presumptive speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to ignore the vaunted seniority system in favor of putting in place committee chairmen who heard the message of 2010.

In one case, David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, argues persuasively that Boehner should bypass the two most senior Republicans on the powerful House Appropriations Committee--California’s Jerry Lewis and Hal Rogers of Kentucky--and, instead, hand the gavel to someone else. [See where Boehner gets his campaign money.]

“John Boehner says he is going to listen to the American people,” Keene said. “If he enables either Lewis or Rogers to take over Appropriations, the speaker will be telling the voters he is tone deaf.”

In a coalition letter currently being circulated for signatures Keene writes, “If you now give a waiver to allow the old chairman (Lewis) to continue, it would be a signal to the millions of independents and members of the Tea Party movement who took a chance on Republicans in the election, that you have ignored their message of change, and that instead it will be business as usual in Washington.”

[See a slide show of winners and losers int he 2010 elections.]

Keene closes by urging Boehner to oppose granting Lewis a waiver that would allow him to retain the gavel and, instead, “allow an open contest for chairman” of the committee.

All the noise appears to be having an effect, as both Lewis and Rogers have now both apparently agreed that, if made chairman that a seat on the committee needs to be found for Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, a noted spending hawk and tax cutter who is popular with conservatives. [See where Flake gets his campaign money.]

The battle over the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee is not the only one drawing attention from conservative leaders, Tea Party activists, and the people who want to change the culture in Washington. Another battle has broken out over who should chair the influential House Committee on Financial Services.

The early assumption that Alabama Republican Spencer Bachus would take over the panel has been set aside now that California’s Ed Royce has entered the race and has won, it should be noted, the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. [See who else supports Royce.]

Palin’s interest may be more personal than political. After all Bachus did tell a local Alabama paper that her involvement in the recent round of primaries cost the GOP control of the Senate. It is however also true that Royce opposed the Troubled Asset Relief Program while Bachus voted for it twice, something that Royce’s backers point to as an important philosophical difference between the two men.

The GOP also has a big choice to make concerning the chairmanship of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. It’s the place where efforts at Obamacare repeal and reform will most likely begin and it’s where the Republicans will fight the Obama administration on cap-and-tax energy legislation and climate change.

[Read more about U.S. energy policy.]

Right now the leading contenders for the chairmanship are Texas Republican Joe Barton, who must receive a waiver from the leadership in order to retain the gavel he held before the GOP lost control of Congress, and Michigan Republican Fred Upton.

[See who supports Upton.]

Barton is solid on all the issues but he has given the leadership its share of political heartburn during its years in the minority. Moreover it would be hard, not impossible but hard, to grant Barton the waiver he wants while denying it to others, like Lewis who needs one to keep the senior spot on Appropriations.

The principal alternative to Barton seems for the moment to be Upton, but many conservatives see him as too moderate to do the job. The Washington Examiner editorialized Monday that Upton was the “wrong choice for Energy and Commerce,” listing a series of votes he cast over the last two years that should give them cause for concern.

These included Upton’s being one of only 34 Republicans “to support the Democrats’ Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 that removed millions of acres of federal lands from oil and gas leasing, thus helping drive up energy costs for consumers” and being “one of 20 Republicans to vote against an amendment offered by Rep. Jim Jordan that would have reduced the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding to 2008 levels.”

The editorial also mentioned his three votes for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and the fact that he was “one of 16 GOPers to support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2009 omnibus spending bill that included an 8.4 percent spending increase over and above the stimulus packages, as well as $7.7 billion in earmarks,” legislation that also killed the successful Opportunity Scholarship Program for students in Washington, D.C.

There are those who would prefer the gavel go to Illinois Republican John Shimkus who, while less senior on the committee than Upton, is said to have a much more reliable voting record on economic and social issues and who might be a better face for the fights coming up over the horizon.

It doesn’t present Boehner with an easy start but, by disregarding seniority in favor of assembling a leadership team that is more in line with what the American people voted for on November 2, it may ultimately make it easier for him to run the House--especially in light of indications that he intends to give committee chairmen much more power and authority to shape legislation and set agendas than Nancy Pelosi ever did.

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