House to Maintain Ratios at Status Quo

Posted January 3, 2003 at 6:42pm

Despite a six-seat gain in the November elections, House Republicans do not plan to increase their numbers on any committee when lawmakers return this week to anoint chairmen and determine committee assignments for the 108th Congress.

Over the holidays Republican leaders decided not to push for higher ratios even though key GOP leadership staffers initially believed the election results entitled them to add at least one more Republican Member to key panels such as Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce.

“We’re bending over backwards to be fair to Democrats,” said John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “What we have right now is working pretty well and there’s no reason to change it.”

Other Republican leadership aides said key chairmen such as Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who heads the Ways and Means Committee, opposed any increases, arguing that the committees are already too large and unwieldy at their current size.

Whatever the rationale, Republicans have avoided what would have inevitably become a nasty partisan battle in the opening days of the 108th Congress.

Republicans must decide this week who will take the helm of the Agriculture, Government Reform and Resources committees, whose former chairmen either retired at the end of the session or were term limited out of their titles.

They must also vote on a House rules package that includes a change sponsored by incoming Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) that would eliminate the term limits placed on the Speakership.

In addition, Republicans aim to finish deciding committee assignments for incoming freshmen, although some GOP aides caution that this week’s agenda is so full they may be forced to finish hashing out committee assignments over the next few weeks and announce them when lawmakers return for the president’s State of the Union speech on Jan. 28.

Appropriations subcommittee chairmen now must also interview with the steering committee and face an up-or-down vote. One GOP leadership aide said that forcing the cardinals to make their case before the steering committee was not aimed at “knocking anybody off.”

“The whole exercise is to show them that if they refuse to move their bill and create a huge problem, that’s going to be remembered in two years,” said the GOP aide. “The goal is to make these folks accountable.”

Most GOP leadership aides believe Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has secured enough support to win the Agriculture gavel. GOP Reps. Terry Everett (Ala.) and Nick Smith (Mich.) are also interviewing for the Agriculture panel post. But two other chairmanship contests are going down to the wire and could be decided as early as Monday.

Candidates for the two gavels were scheduled to make presentations to the steering committee over the weekend. As Roll Call went to press Friday, lawmakers were preparing to make their presentations and steering committee members were anticipating a difficult decision process.

As of Friday, GOP sources said the contest for control of the Government Reform panel was still highly competitive. GOP Policy Chairman Christopher Cox (Calif.), Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) — who gave up his title of National Republican Congressional Committee chairman at the end of the session after historic election results — and Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.) were vying for the job.

[IMGCAP(1)] Since Rep. Connie Morella (Md.) lost and Rep. Ben Gilman (N.Y.) retired, Shays is now the most senior lawmaker on Government Reform. Cox is next on the seniority list, although he has been on leave from the panel.

Davis, who is four slots behind Cox in seniority, represents a Northern Virginia district with a large number of federal employees who are impacted by the panel’s actions. And Davis would seem to have an ace in the hole: He was the man in charge during the past two successful election cycles.

Even though GOP leaders are ecstatic about Davis’ ability to lead the NRCC to victory, they are deeply concerned that too many of his constituents are members of federal government unions.

The moderate Shays has the most seniority, but Republican leaders — at least initially — scoffed at his chances of winning the gavel. Early last year Shays helped to lead the fight to overhaul campaign-finance laws which involved circulating a discharge petition, something GOP leaders regard as a direct challenge to their ability to exercise control over the Conference.

In the past few months, however, Shays has worked to mend fences with the leadership. He introduced within the Government Reform panel and on the House floor the White House’s desired amendment that would allow the president to waive worker-protection rights in the new Homeland Security Department.

“Shays is the senior member on the committee who has served on it 16 years,” said Shays spokeswoman Betsy Hawkings. “He will talk about his vision, his capability and his credibility to lead the committee. He is looking forward to making his case to the [steering committee] and to responding to any questions or concerns the steering committee might have.”

Despite these efforts, as of late last week, some House GOP leadership aides were still discussing an arrangement that would elbow Shays out of the running. Under this scenario, Cox would take the helm at Government Reform and then resign his Policy position, which would be taken by Davis.

Cox has spent the past few years campaigning hard for a plum position; he gave $1.4 million to Republican candidates and local and national party committees in the past two election cycles.

Still GOP aides cautioned that nothing has been predetermined and that the steering committee will decide who gets the post.

“There are a lot of balls up in the air,” a senior GOP leadership aide remarked. “It’s still very much a tossup.”

Over the weekend, the steering committee was also scheduled to hear from a bevy of candidates running for the Resources Committee chairmanship, which include, in order of seniority: Reps. Jim Saxton (N.J.), Elton Gallegly (Calif.), John Duncan (Tenn.), Joel Hefley (Colo.), Ken Calvert (Calif.), Scott McInnis (Colo.), Richard Pombo (Calif.) and Barbara Cubin (Wyo.).

With such a crowded field of candidates, many lawmakers are viewing the decision as a test of how much the Republican Conference values seniority. Pombo has run an aggressive campaign for the post, stressing his visits to 22 states where he conducted Resources panel field hearings and his financial commitment to retain the Republican majority.

Pombo’s conservative convictions have earned him significant support within the leadership ranks, while some Members and aides have expressed concern about handing the gavel to a Northeasterner such as Saxton, whose environmental views have tended to be more liberal than those of other committee Republicans.

Pombo spokesman Doug Heye said his boss should win the post because he has demonstrated the strongest commitment to the issues. He also noted that since 1994 the California Republican has given $250,000 to the Battleground program aimed at retaining the majority.

“It’s safe to say that when people think of western issues they think of him,” Heye said.

Duncan is another member who is putting up a serious fight for the post. His spokesman, Rob Haralson, said Friday that his boss was creating a PowerPoint presentation coordinated with a speech.

“He will stress a number of things: the importance of having a chairman from the South, his work on private property rights and land-management issues, how he’s been trying to find a way to avoid these devastating forest fires that we’ve had in the past,” Haralson said.

Gallegly, who is second in seniority only to Saxton, recited a litany of accomplishments during his 16 years on the committee and stressed the importance of giving the gavel to someone who has demonstrated a long-term commitment to the panel.

“Duncan is two years behind me, Ken Calvert is six years down the list … and Pombo is two slots behind Calvert,” he said in an interview. “Their time will come, but I think it’s important to look at regular order.”

Calvert said he was not discouraged about his chances and stressed his work on issues relating to private property, energy extraction, American Indians, parks and oceans.

“Seniority is important,” he said. “But since the Republicans became the majority, seniority isn’t the only criteria.”