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Mitt Romney's Congressional Allies Gear Up for First 100 Days

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

TAMPA, Fla. - Congressional allies close to Mitt Romney are already looking ahead to a GOP takeover next year and are trying to set the stage for a burst of post-inauguration activity, lawmakers, aides and GOP strategists told Roll Call this week.

Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan have close ties to key Republicans in both chambers who will be instrumental in pushing the former Massachusetts governor's agenda to his desk and help him hit the ground running.

And while the campaign is clearly the overwhelming focus for now, talks have already begun with Romney's transition team, led by Mike Leavitt and his staff, as well as with Romney himself, about strategies for getting his legislation through a Congress that has been locked in partisan gridlock for the past two years.

"Mike Leavitt is heading up his transition team and he's talked to several of us in the Senate," said retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.). "We've all been talking about it."

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) - who hopes to be Majority Leader next year - both have strong links to Romney's campaign and are largely on board with his agenda, of course.

Getting a Republican Senate will be critical to enacting much of the agenda, with Romney eyeing the filibuster-busting budget reconciliation process to pass sweeping tax and spending changes and to roll back much of President Barack Obama's health care law with a simple majority.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (Mich.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who is in line to be Finance Chairman if the GOP takes the Senate, could have outsized roles in that process given their jurisdiction over everything from Romney's push for a sweeping tax overhaul to overturning and replacing the health care law, and enacting a major deficit reduction package including overhauls to Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlements.

Camp is trying to set the stage to fast-track trade legislation early next year, said Rep. Patrick Tiberi (Ohio), who heads a powerful Ways and Means subcommittee and is close to Ryan and Boehner.

And Hatch and his staff have been preparing for a major tax overhaul for the past two years - telling Roll Call this week that the prospect of running the Finance Committee is the only reason why the Senator decided to run for one last term.

Hatch has been friends with Romney for years, sharing Utah roots; both are Mormons.

And Hatch noted that both he and Romney have had a history of getting legislation passed and working with Democrats - including Romney's stint in Massachusetts.

"I'm going to make this committee work whether I'm chairman or not," Hatch said. "The Democrats know that I can put both sides together."

No one, however, may be more valuable to a Romney administration than Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio). He has experience in the House, knows the budget and tax issues as well as anyone outside of Ryan and has the respect of and credibility with Democrats, aides and fellow lawmakers told Roll Call.

Although Portman doesn't have a powerful chairmanship, he's trusted by his Conference, is very close to Romney and was on the nominee's very short list for vice president.

Portman told Roll Call earlier this week that he wants to stay in the Senate rather than join a Romney cabinet, suggesting that his experience would be best suited to navigating legislation through that chamber. He's already discussed the intricacies of the Senate reconciliation process with Romney.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the Romney campaign's liaison to the Senate, also has a lot of experience as the former House Majority Leader and Whip; he's a consummate dealmaker who knows how to make the trains run on time. Blunt has a keen political sense and navigated the bruising intraparty battles the last time the GOP held the House, the Senate and the presidency.

Sen. Mike Crapo (Idaho), a senior member of the Finance Committee who is one of the Senate's most respected leaders on budget issues, also gets mentioned as someone who will play a larger role in the chamber.

Romney has grown close to a cadre of key surrogates, many of whom are younger GOP lawmakers, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), among others.

Former Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney surrogate, said some of the younger Republicans will help push Romney's agenda beyond the obvious players chairing committees and in the leadership.

"These new and very aggressive and dynamic Senators, everybody from a Rubio to a Portman, to a Roy Blunt, and Ron Johnson" will give energy to the administration's efforts, Talent said. "There are a lot of people even thought they are new to the Senate [who] are very accomplished in getting a reform agenda done, and Rob [Portman] is one, Roy [Blunt] is another obviously; I think Rubio's hit the ground running there, and Johnson has too. There's a lot of those people."

He continued, "And then you are going to have people who have been there for a long time, and want to do things and haven't been able to do it - your Mike Crapos, people like that, and I think you'll see them stepping up to."

RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said Ryan's selection also will help Romney get the ball rolling.

"You've got a lot of former House Members in the Senate now ... so he's got a lot of those guys that he's worked with, and he's close to the leadership as well," said Spicer who named Sens. John Thune (S.D.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and Portman and Blunt.

"Romney already has a lot of relationships on the Hill but Ryan's got a lot of connections that will add some firepower to Hill outreach," Spicer said.

Spicer pointed to Camp as someone likely to be particularly helpful.

"If you look at the challenges that we're going to face legislatively, having the chairman of the Ways and Means committee who is committed to making things roll is a good thing," he said.

Romney also will need to reach out to lawmakers who can help him on his right flank and with tea party-inspired Members. Romney has had cultivated a relationship with Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and he has reached out to Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), giving him a speaking slot this week at the Republican National Convention. They are two of the conservatives he will need to keep on the reservation with a Senate certain to be closely divided.

And in the House, Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) could end up chairing either the Financial Services Committee or the Budget Committee and has credibility among the party's conservatives as well, GOP strategists said.

Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas) said Ryan's personal ties will also prove critical.

"If you look at Paul's friends, Paul believes in committee chairmen, he believes in regular order," he said.

Ryan has a close relationship with Camp, having served on the Ways and Means Committee with him.

And Sessions said that Romney's pick of Ryan is a sign that he will look to the House as an incubator of ideas and solutions.

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