House Republican chairmen have vowed vigorous oversight of the Obama administration, but for eight of them, there are political risks involved.
Of the 20 House panel chairmen, eight represent districts won by President Obama in 2008: Reps. Buck McKeon (Calif.), Paul RyanPaul RyanSchumer compares opposition to GOP health bill to Vietnam War protests Bush ethics lawyer compares GOP healthcare bill to Hindenburg explosion Michael Moore warns Dems: Now is not the time to gloat MORE (Wis.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Dan Lungren (Calif.), David Dreier (Calif.), Mike Rogers (Mich.) and Dave Camp (Mich.).
But in their effort to win back the House, Democrats are homing in on the 61 Republicans who represent Obama-won districts. And while most of the eight committee chairmen are not considered primary targets in next year’s election, Democrats are anxious to make them sweat.
It’s not easy to defeat panel chairmen, who typically are among the best fundraisers. But it happens.
During the last cycle, three Democratic House chairmen lost: Reps. Ike Skelton (Mo.), John Spratt (S.C.) and Jim Oberstar (Minn.). Republicans also captured the seat of former Appropriations Committee David Obey (D-Wis.), who did not seek reelection.
Those losses stung Democrats, and they want payback.
|House GOP Chairman||Home District||2008 Presidential Election|
|Buck McKeon, Armed Services||Calif. 25||Obama 49%|
|Paul Ryan, Budget||Wisc. 1||Obama 51%|
|Fred Upton, Energy and Commerce||Mich. 6||Obama 54%|
|Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Foreign Affairs||Fla. 18||Obama 51%|
|Dan Lungren, Administration||Calif. 3||Obama 49.3%|
|Mike Rogers, Intelligence||Mich. 8||Obama 53%|
|David Dreier, Rules||Calif. 26||Obama 51%|
|Dave Camp, Ways and Means||Mich. 4||Obama 50%|
In an interview with The Hill earlier this year, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a [committee] chairman or not. We’re not going to be distracted by personalities. It’s going to be driven by the numbers, driven by our message, driven by our ability to mobilize.”
Jennifer Crider of the DCCC said, “The DCCC is targeting the 14 districts that were won by both President Obama and Sen. [John] Kerry [D-Mass.] as well as the 47 additional districts that were won by President Obama.”
Kerry did not win any of the eight chairmen’s districts in 2004.
The DCCC last week sent out a list of 10 districts that it is targeting in the election over the issue of Social Security reform.
Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee, was included in that list, as were freshman GOP lawmakers who now represent districts held previously by Democratic committee chairmen or subcommittee chairmen. They include: West Virginia Rep. David McKinleyDavid McKinleyThe Hill's Whip List: 36 GOP no votes on ObamaCare repeal plan A guide to the committees: House Overnight Regulation: Republicans put Obama coal rule on chopping block MORE; Texas Rep. Blake FarentholdBlake FarentholdOvernight Energy: Backlash to Trump’s proposed EPA cuts grows Watchdog piles on criticism of offshore drilling regulator Federal court: Texas House districts must be redrawn MORE; Pennsylvania Rep. Lou BarlettaLou BarlettaTop Republican: The healthcare bill is dead GOP faces risky decision on ObamaCare vote White House: Steve King now a yes on ObamaCare bill MORE; Michigan Rep. Dan BenishekDan BenishekRepublican groups launch final ad blitz in key House battlegrounds Tea Party class reassesses record Michigan Republican to retire MORE; and Wisconsin Rep. Sean DuffySean DuffyGOP rep: Dems have done nothing to fix ObamaCare CNN host, GOP rep spar over Trump wiretap talk GOP targets Baldwin over Wisconsin VA scandal MORE.
Ryan will soon be releasing his new budget plan for fiscal 2012, which is expected to call for reforms to popular entitlement programs.
Despite the political pressures, none of the eight GOP chairmen has showed any signs of easing up on Obama.
Upton, the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, has taken on the president’s healthcare reform law, Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules and policies coming from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Obama won Upton’s district by nearly 10 percentage points.
Meanwhile, Dreier has pushed Obama on trade issues and Ryan has accused the president of not leading on entitlement reform.
Camp, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said, “I’m not running against President Obama [in 2012].”
He noted many people vote differently for president than they do for their representative in the House.
He said he does not consider the political calculations of holding oversight hearings that could be viewed as too aggressive by some of his constituents.
“We have oversight, but I view oversight as shining a spotlight on government activities and making them public," Camp said. "But our oversight is: ‘Are these programs working? Are these taxpayer dollars being used effectively?'"
Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) represents a district that Obama lost to Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration Overnight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal Senate lawmakers eye hearing next week for Air Force secretary: report MORE (R-Ariz.) by two percentage points.
Asked whether Obama’s standing in his district plays any role in how he handles panel hearings, Kline responded, “No. I can’t imagine that it would. I think that’s a silly road to go down.”
Kline added that the demographics of many districts will likely change due to redistricting this cycle.
Others point out that Obama is not popular as he was in 2008 or early 2009. Many political analysts say the 2012 presidential election will likely resemble the tight races of 2004 and 2000, not the blowout of 2008.
Rutgers University political science Professor Ross Baker said, “Most people would recognize that 2008 was a very unusual presidential election. After a series of very close elections, that wasn’t close, and Obama had very substantial coattails.”
He added, “If they survived 2008, they will probably survive 2012.”