Lungren Eyed for House Administration Panel Leadership

Posted November 1, 2010 at 2:57pm

House Administration ranking member Dan Lungren is the presumptive choice to chair the committee if Republicans take the House, Congressional aides and sources said.

But the Californian has to win re-election first. And as one of a few Republican incumbents at risk Tuesday, Lungren’s defeat would cast uncertainty on who could be the next “Mayor of Capitol Hill.”

Though GOP House leadership has been tight-lipped about who will head the Speaker-appointed committee next session, Lungren subtly indicated last week that he plans to stick around.

Lungren has been a solid conservative voice on the committee but has also managed to work across the bench with Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.).

The panel “will take a much more active role supporting the integrity of federal elections in the next Congress, regardless of who is in power after Nov. 2,” Lungren wrote in a letter to each state’s election officials.

He asked that they report their election successes and failures to the committee, which has jurisdiction over federal elections. A draft of the letter was sent to the media.

“He’s saying two things there,” a former senior Hill staffer said. “He’s putting a place marker there to say, ‘When I come back, whether we win or lose, we want to deal with election issues.'”

“He’s also tipping his hand and saying maybe he wants to be chairman,” the source added.

If the GOP takes control of the House in the next Congress, the committee will have to deal with a bungled fiscal 2011 Capitol Police budget and repairing thousands of Capitol and Congressional office safety hazards, all while fulfilling would-be Speaker John Boehner’s pledge to cut legislative branch spending. So the Ohio Republican would want to install a like-minded, cost-cutting conservative atop the committee, sources say.

Though he unsuccessfully challenged Boehner for Minority Leader in 2008, Lungren secured the top GOP slot on the House Administration Committee anyway the next year.

At the time, Boehner said Lungren “helped lead efforts to ensure efficient operations within the House complex and protect taxpayer dollars” during his two-year tenure on the committee.

“After the challenge to Boehner, he grew into the position,” the senior aide said of Lungren’s ranking membership. “Whether Boehner decides to reward him with that remains to be seen.”

Still, most observers agree that bygones are likely bygones for a more strategic than vengeful Boehner.

“If he were going to act on any kind of grudge, he would have done it at the beginning of this Congress,” one House GOP aide said. “Making him the ranking member on this committee is sort of saying, ‘I’m bigger than that.'”

The real questions arise if Lungren does not win his re-election bid. Democrat Ami Bera outraised Lungren all election cycle, and the latest polls have Lungren taking less than 50 percent of the vote, though still leading.

Lungren’s two Republican colleagues on the committee would make unlikely chairmen.

Chief Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), a two-term Member who rarely shows up to House Administration hearings, is widely expected to take a leadership role if Republicans win the House, leaving him little time to chair a committee.

And although Rep. Gregg Harper cultivated relationships with leadership as the freshman on the Republican Steering Committee in 2008, he may still be too fresh for the gavel.

The Mississippi Republican has never held a ranking membership, and if he took the House Administration chairmanship in his sophomore term, he would be the least experienced Member ever to do so, leapfrogging two former Members who became chairmen of the committee in their fourth terms.

He would be the first sophomore to chair any committee since Rep. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) chaired the Joint Committee on Bicentennial Arrangements from 1975 to 1977.

“I can’t see them putting such a junior Member as chairman of the committee,” the former senior aide said. But then again, Boehner, who sat on the committee from 1993 to 2001, “may want to put a younger person on there because he can … tell him a little more how he’d like to see the committee run,” the source added.

Harper’s one term on the panel, however, puts him on par with any other prospective chairman. Only two other Republicans who have sat on the committee within the last decade will be around in the 112th Congress: Four-term Rep. Candice Miller (Mich.) served one term on the committee in the 109th Congress, and Rep. John Mica (Fla.) spent eight years on House Administration, but he is expected to lead the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee next year.

The only other Republican with recent experience is Rep. Kay Granger (Texas), who sat next to Boehner from 1997 to 1999, and is expected to chair the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.