House Republican leaders have promised that chairmen will have more power to lead in the 112th Congress, but a survey given last week to each candidate for a gavel shows they have specific ideas for what leading a committee means.
In a 20-question survey obtained by Roll Call, candidates for the House Republican chairmanships were asked to specify how they would address a range of committee-related issues such as day-to-day management, Member attendance, the implementation of oversight and other basic principles of the “Pledge to America” agenda.
The Dec. 2 survey from Speaker-designate John Boehner (Ohio) and Majority Leader-designate Eric Cantor (Va.) asked candidates to complete the survey by Dec. 13, but sources familiar with the survey said candidates for contested chairmanships were required to turn them in Monday since the Steering Committee will meet Tuesday to vote on chairmen.
The questions drilled down into the management of committee time, and setting high expectations: “Are you available to return to Washington earlier on the first day of session” for preliminary meetings with staff members so that regular committee work can begin promptly on the second day?
Candidates also were asked to estimate the workload of the committee and to indicate “what field hearings and non-traditional activities” they would use to fill the “D.C. work week.”
Member attendance at committee meetings was identified as a top concern for leadership. Boehner told Members at a recent meeting of the House Republican Conference that their attendance at committee hearing and mark-ups would be expected. The questionnaire reiterated this message.
“It has not been uncommon to hear from GOP-called committee witnesses that Democrat Members were much more engaged in asking questions, using questioning to make a point, and generally taking advantage of oversight hearings,” the questionnaire said. “Witnesses often complained that Republican Members wouldn’t even show up for hearings. This is even true of witnesses who appeared before our committees when we were in the majority.”
“Please describe how you intend to ensure that the members of your committee actively engage in the oversight hearing process in a constructive and productive manner,” the memo asked.
It also asked whether the candidate would be willing to post committee attendance and votes online.
“You should know that this will likely be adopted as a new rule by the Conference and that the Steering Committee may meet regularly to discuss Member performance in committees,” the survey noted.
The survey also asked prospective chairmen if they would be willing to “provide the Leadership with detailed plans for your committee on a quarterly basis” and were asked to attach a preliminary plan for the first quarter of 2011.
The questionnaire also sought to get a clearer picture of how the candidates would handle their oversight responsibilities and discourage investigations that could be read as blatant partisan attacks.
“One way to ensure that oversight is focused on our priorities is to conduct oversight with uniform standards,” the memo said. “What’s the purpose of this program? What are the roles and responsibilities of the program? Is this the best use of taxpayers’ time and money? How will we determine the success and failure of the program? Will you work to develop such standards for your committee?”
It also tested the willingness of the would-be leaders to new legislative standards that could be imposed “to ensure that legislative proposals advance the priorities of our Conference.”
The proposed standards listed in the memo include adding justifications for bills that continue current spending to show “why we are comfortable continuing to borrow money to finance such spending,” explanations for “how the bill advances the priorities of our Conference” and “a sunset for the bill within seven years.”
Finally, they asked candidates for their ideas on how they can build support for their initiatives beyond the Beltway.
“Many of the Washington-based associations will feel competing pressures from the Democrat Senate and the Obama Administration,” the survey asked. “What are your thoughts as to how we form new coalitions outside of Washington?”