Meet the Likely House Committee Chairs


Earlier this week, we highlighted a few ways [1] that midterm elections could affect some of the issues we've dogged in the past few months-the foreclosure scandal, financial reform, healthcare reform, among others.

 

Impending Republican control of the House means there will be new leaders on powerful House committees [2]. Those committees oversee a number of issues we've covered, including the investigation of federal agencies, the strength of financial reform, and the future of energy policy.

 

Here's a quick introduction-or reintroduction-to some of the lawmakers who will likely win these important chairmanships. Many of them, you'll note, have stated publicly their opposition to "job-killing" regulation of the financial community and energy industry-in line with the GOP's Pledge to America [3].

 

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

 

Remember Darrell Issa, the Republican lawmaker who a New York Times profile nicknamed "Obama's Annoyer-in-Chief [4]" for his tendency to make a fuss on so-called "nuisance issues"? Assuming he becomes chairman, Issa will have subpoena authority, which means he'll have the power to launch investigations into many of the suspicions he's raised about the Obama administration [5].

 

Following the Republican gains in the House, Issa pushed back against fears that the investigations he initiates will be driven by partisan motivations.

 

"I want to prove the pundits wrong. My job is not to bring down the president [6]. My job is to make the president a success," he told reporters. "I'm going to stick to my knitting, which is waste, fraud and abuse, whenever possible."

 

Talking Points Memo flagged four likely issues for investigation [7], noting that Issa had more or less laid out his agenda [8] for oversight of the executive branch in an earlier report. That report noted "hearings requested by the Republican Minority but ignored by the Democratic Majority," including investigations into Fannie and Freddie, failures at the SEC, and inadequate response to BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

 

Issa has since told reporters [9] that he'd likely focus on earmark reform and investigate the President's use of advisers, or "czars [10]," who don't have to go through Senate confirmation. He has also said that he will "absolutely" advocate granting subpoena power to the primary 74 inspectors general [11] who serve as watchdogs at various federal agencies. Currently only the Defense Department's inspector general has that authority.

 

House Financial Services Committee

 

With the shift of power to House Republicans, Rep. Barney Frank-whose name is on the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill-will be relinquishing his position as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

 

His most likely successor is Rep. Spencer Bachus, a Republican from Alabama who has previously issued the following statement [12] pertaining to the financial reform bill:

 

   "The administration will no longer receive a pass    when it comes to aggressive oversight of their    failed economic policies, and that includes    extensive review of all the job-killing provisions    in [the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer    Protection Act]."

 

Some of those "job-killing provisions" include the new rules requiring derivatives [13] to be traded on exchanges and routed through clearinghouses, according to comments made Wednesday [14] by Bachus. Putting derivatives on open exchanges, he told CNBC [15], "is just one example of something that is going to dry up liquidity, that is going to impact the economy, and is going to cost jobs."

 

As chairman, he would also be overseeing the overhaul- or, as it might be viewed, the privatization-of government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Bachus has said that severing government ties with the mortgage giants is necessary, though the "withdrawal process" may be painful for borrowers [16].

 

The House Republican Steering Committee has to vote to make Bachus' chairmanship official. He faces a challenge for the position from Rep. Ed Royce, who announced on Wednesday that he is also vying for it [17].

 

Royce has posted on his website a recent article by American Banker [18] stating that he is "not looking to repeal outright the Dodd-Frank regulatory reform law" but is likely to "try and clip its wings."

 

House Energy and Commerce Committee

 

Two Republican lawmakers, Reps. Joe Barton and Fred Upton, are facing off over chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to the Houston Chronicle's FuelFix blog [19].

 

Rep. Barton, some may recall, is the lawmaker who famously apologized to BP's then-CEO, Tony Hayward, for what he called a "$20 billion shakedown [20]" of the company by the Obama administration. (Obama had met with BP executives in June to discuss setting aside $20 billion in an escrow account, from which to pay out damages for Gulf residents affected by the spill [21].)

 

The apology to BP-which Barton retracted that same day [22]-is just one hurdle standing between Barton and the chairmanship. The other hurdle is technical.

 

Because Barton has served as chairman from 2004 to 2006 and then as ranking Republican, the GOP leadership appears to be interpreting its term-limit rules in such a way that would bar him from leading the committee for another term. The Chronicle explains:

 

   To remain at the helm of the Energy and Commerce    Committee, Barton would have to secure a waiver of    the term limit rule. And, he would have to convince    a GOP steering committee-and then a majority of the    Republican party's incoming House members-that he    deserves the post.

 

Barton's already started working on this. The Hill reported that he sent a letter to incoming GOP lawmakers [23] on Wednesday, touting his record of opposing cap- and-trade and healthcare reform:

 

   "Over the past four years, as Ranking Member of the    Committee on Energy and Commerce, I have led the    charge against radical cap-and-trade legislation,    fought the new entitlements and mandates that are    the rotten core of President Obama's health care    law, and consistently applied free market principles    to legislative decisions," he wrote. "It's been an    uphill battle, and I'm grateful that, thanks to your    votes, the cavalry is riding to the rescue."

 

If his efforts don't succeed, Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, is next in line. His positions on energy issues are outlined in this recent op-ed [24] he wrote for the Washington Times. In it, he argues that regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, and other agencies are "smothering the economy."

 

"The government cannot buy or regulate its way out of this mess," Upton wrote. "It's time for a new approach."

 

Several other Republicans on the committee are also reportedly eyeing the chairmanship [25] but are not expected to win over Upton. A power company lobbyist, however, told the Chronicle that the committee's leadership may not matter much-both top contenders "have worked closely with the industry."

 

"Whether it's Mr. Barton or Mr. Upton," said Scott Segal of Bracewell & Giuliani, "the Energy and Commerce Committee is going to be friendlier to the business community, more attentive to industrial jobs (and) more balanced in its approach to energy policy."

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