Three months after Speaker John A. Boehner chose Candice S. Miller as the only Republican woman to head a standing committee, the House Administration Committee chairwoman faced a task in early 2013 that would make her "the most unpopular person" on Capitol Hill.
As part of Boehner's mission to make good on Republicans' promise to rein in the institution's spending and do more with less, Miller shaved committee spending and cut congressional office budgets. Between reductions and sequester-imposed cuts imposed since Republicans took the majority in 2010, member allowances have slimmed by about 18 percent. "I said to the speaker, 'I don't know if I want to kiss ya or kill ya,'" the Michigan Republican said during an interview in her Cannon office, reflecting on one of the biggest undertakings of her chairmanship.
With Boehner now headed for the exits — partially the result of a member-driven revolution — Miller sat down with Roll Call to reflect on the speaker's legacy as an "institutionalist" and her role in helping the speaker better serve House members.
Before he handed Miller the gavel following the 2012 elections, Boehner faced criticism over appointing an all-male slate of chairmen. The Administration Committee wasn't Miller's first choice; she wanted the Homeland Security gavel. But when Boehner called to say that chairmanship would go to Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, Miller suggested Administration might make a nice consolation prize.
Boehner agreed. And he gave her one instruction: Improve member services.
"'This is a member-driven organization. This is a members' committee,'" Miller said she was told. "'You need to think about what kind of things you can do to help members be able to do a better job and represent their constituents in a better way, and how can we enable that.'"
To carry that out, Miller drew on both her early experience selling boats on her family's marina and her Midwestern candor. She sold the 2013 committee budget cuts by explaining to fellow chairmen it would be "unseemly, quite frankly, for them to be complaining that there's just not enough money all the time. ... Here we are as a Republican conference going around talking about how we need to cut government. Well, let's just take a look in the mirror here, gentlemen."
The administrative matters under her jurisdiction, often removed from politics and policy-shaping, "can reflect in a good way on a speaker or can reflect in a negative way on a speaker," Miller said. She oversees House officers appointed by the speaker — Clerk Karen Haas, Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving and Chief Administrative Officer Ed Cassidy, a longtime Boehner confidant — who manage technical, security and administrative operations.
Reflecting on her oversight role, Miller said "there really hasn't been anything big of a negative nature, but you know there's always things that need to be improved."
When the gun assigned to a member of Boehner's security detail was recovered by a child in the bathroom of the speaker's suite , it was Miller who called in the Capitol Police chief for a public discussion of gun-potty protocol . "We're all biological human beings, so everyone has to go to the bathroom," Miller said in the hearing to preface an uncomfortable, but necessary question about assigning lockboxes for service weapons.
The May 20 hearing marked Chief Kim C. Dine's first time testifying to the committee since he started the job in late 2012. "So that was way overdue," Miller acknowledged.
On Aug. 3, Dine announced plans to retire , a move Miller said "bodes well," though she wishes him the best.
Miller is also a lame duck. The 61-year-old announced in March she would not seek a ninth term. But she intends to stay on top of housekeeping matters, including a review of the regulations governing lawmaker spending launched in the aftermath of Aaron Schock's rapid downfall .
"Look, I'm on my way out the door," she said, "but I would like to be able to ensure there is a structure in place that helps members understand, so that doesn't happen again. Transparency is a big part of that."
Schock's misspending was "an anomaly," Miller said, declining to provide more details on alleged lawbreaking that may have led the Illinois Republican to resign.
"The reason [Schock] was so sensational is because you don't hear of that kind of thing — really, you don't," Miller said. "It's not to say that there's never an incident, but ... obviously I thought something needed to be done."
In the immediate wake of Schock's departure, Boehner downplayed concern that the House had failed to police members' spending. He told the press there “are ample controls in place to deal with the allegations that are involved here,” and cautioned reporters not to be naive. “Understand something,” he said. “If anyone’s gonna violate the rules, they’re gonna violate the rules, and in almost every case, sooner or later, it catches up to them.”
About a week after those comments, Miller announced she was asking Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., both former congressional staffers, to steer a review of spending rules . Their findings will be discussed during an upcoming hearing, she said.
"I have a precinct of one, really," the former Michigan secretary of State likes to joke. "It's the speaker's committee, right?"
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