McHugh Moves Into Spotlight

He’s Now a Major GOP Voice on Policy

Posted May 8, 2009 at 2:17pm

Amid the avalanche of news conferences and photo ops on Capitol Hill, Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) got a lot done last week.

McHugh, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, co-led a markup hearing on a Pentagon acquisition reform bill that passed unanimously, and he co-sponsored legislation to keep Guantánamo Bay detainees from coming to U.S. prisons.

And there is no sign McHugh’s schedule will let up any time soon. As pending reform legislation, the Weapons Acquisition System Reform Through Enhancing Technical Knowledge and Oversight Act, reaches the House floor this week, McHugh will be called upon by his colleagues to be the moderate voice for Republicans, who have found themselves in an identity crisis since Barack Obama became president.

“We know we have our concerns within the party, but it is nice to see we have people like McHugh who can work with Members across the aisle,— Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said last week. Cantor is one of the Republicans leading the party’s rebranding effort.

It quickly became apparent this year that McHugh would become one of the Republicans’ leading figures after the new administration took over. Obama sought out McHugh when he unveiled his plans to withdraw from Iraq. And McHugh’s status, after years in a cozy spot behind the scenes, was propelled front and center.

The New York Times reported the White House meeting in February this way: “Representative John M. McHugh of New York, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Obama had reassured him that he would revisit his plan if circumstances changed.—

McHugh is a serious voice on defense and budgetary affairs at a time when Republicans are being painted as extremists. He would say after his meeting at the White House: “I remain concerned that the security situation in Iraq is fragile, and we should work to mitigate any risks to our troops and their mission.—

The 60-year-old Congressman, who hails from upstate New York, has used the spotlight he’s earned on the committee to his advantage. He keeps a watchful eye not only on the administration’s war strategy, but also on the business of acquisition reform. McHugh, like many of his colleagues, knew it had been more than 20 years since the Congress had a serious chance of reforming a bloated Pentagon procurement system that is experiencing billions of dollars in cost overruns every year.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), the ranking member of the Armed Services panel onDefense Acquisition Reform Panel, called McHugh “a true leader.—

“He is the right person at the right time. Nobody overlooks his hard work to get things done,— Conaway said.

McHugh went on to lead the approach on the WASTE TKO legislation by urging colleagues to come together for the common good of soldiers and their families, always accentuating bipartisanship.

Given McHugh’s background as a lawmaker who can bring his colleagues together, it is no wonder that he looks to deflate the partisan rhetoric on the committee.

“Our focus on the committee is national security. That is in everybody’s interest,— McHugh stressed at the committee’s last hearing.

Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) has been impressed with McHugh’s approach and says his colleague gets results.

“I cannot ask for a better partner than John. We agree on many issues, and I respect his decision-making and candor on the committee,— Skelton said recently.

If history is any indication, McHugh will become an ally on the side of moderates once committee debate begins on the upcoming defense authorization bill. In fact, McHugh could very well embody the image of bipartisanship Obama has called for since taking over the Oval Office.

“Consistent with the committee’s long-standing tradition, we Republicans intend to work in a bipartisan fashion with our Democratic colleagues and the Obama administration in a serious effort to build a budget that both ensures America’s national security and provides the men and women of our military and their families with the support they so richly deserve,— McHugh explained.

He also vowed to become an effective vehicle “to better serve and advance the priorities of all of New York.— That commitment will likely be put to the test when Skelton shifts the committee’s focus from acquisition reform to the defense authorization bill, where parochial interests tend to dominate the panel’s discussions.