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Incoming House chairmen are on a mission

The new set of committee overseers want to challenge the agenda of the Obama administration, such as the healthcare overhaul, and cut federal spending.

January 01, 2011|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — They want to repeal the healthcare overhaul, pare back financial regulations, slash federal spending and curtail the reach of the Environmental Protection Agency. In essence, they want to challenge the agenda of the Obama administration at every turn.

The new GOP chairmen of key House committees such as Appropriations, Budget, Energy and Commerce, and Oversight and Government Reform believe they have a mandate to check the size and scope of government.

But their ability to achieve legislative success will be hampered by the divided Congress — Democrats still control the Senate, albeit with a smaller majority — and the threat of a presidential veto.

The result could be gridlock, but that may be the point, said Sarah Binder, an expert on congressional relations for the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning Washington think tank.

"So long as the House is able to pull itself together to vote for these strongly conservative positions, they benefit even if they fail," she said. "Republicans will see trying as important to the cause."

"If the House GOP sees bill after bill die in the Senate," Binder said, "they can certainly blame the Democrats for blocking them," and draw stark battle lines for 2012 in the process.

Along that line, don't expect the new House, which will be sworn in Wednesday, to hash out the sort of deals that Senate Republicans reached with the White House over extending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts.

The new speaker, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, has pledged to return the House to "regular order," which in his mind means granting the committees and their chairmen more power to craft legislation. By contrast, under outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leadership regularly wrote bills that were then presented to the caucus for an up-and-down vote as a finished product.

If Boehner is true to his word, then bills may move more slowly through the House, with greater input from the rank-and-file.

Obama's chief antagonist may be Rep. Darrell Issa (R- Vista), who will chair the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Issa has promised not to use the position to mount grandstanding investigations into political arcana, such as subpoenaing the president's birth certificate, but will instead use his committee to try to uncover fraud and waste within the federal government.

But Issa made it clear that Obama's legislative accomplishments are a ripe target.

"After a trillion-dollar stimulus that didn't create jobs, a trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street and a trillion-dollar healthcare overhaul, the American people believe we need more oversight, not less," he said in an interview. "But that oversight must lead to reform so that we produce a federal government that serves the people better and without excess spending.... We need to be better stewards of the people's money."

Here is a look at some of the incoming House chairmen and where their legislative outlook may bring them into conflict with the president:

Appropriations

Chairman: Harold Rogers of Kentucky

Age: 73

Background: The longest serving Kentucky Republican ever elected to federal office, Rogers has been a member of Congress since 1981.

Coming flashpoints: Once an earnest defender of earmarks and derided as "the Prince of Pork" by Democrats, Rogers has vowed to change his ways and abide by a GOP-imposed ban on the practice. Rogers will be a point man on federal spending and is charged with cutting $100 billion from Obama's budget for the current fiscal year. He may also work to choke off funding for the healthcare overhaul and other newly passed federal initiatives.

Budget

Chairman: Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin

Age: 40

Background: The former congressional aide and speechwriter for conservatives such as Bob Bennett and Jack Kemp was first elected to Congress in 1998.

Coming flashpoints: Ryan is a true budget hawk, drawing up a blueprint last year for entitlement reform that involved partially privatizing Social Security and doing away with Medicare in its current form. Though he may avoid such third-rail issues as chairman, he'll be a central figure as the GOP seeks to scale back the budget and reduce the deficit.

Education and Labor

Chairman: John Kline of Minnesota

Age: 63

Background: A Vietnam veteran who served as a national security aide to Presidents Carter and Reagan, Kline was first elected to the House in 2002.

Coming flashpoints: Kline will oversee reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act — a crown jewel of the George W. Bush administration — and may propose some radical changes, which may put Democrats in the position of defending the work of a Republican president. Kline favors rolling back federal mandates for testing students and eliminating any national standards for accountability, preferring instead to allow local districts to have more control over curriculum.

Energy and Commerce

Chairman: Fred Upton of Michigan

Age: 57

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