House GOP chooses panel chairmen

House Republican leaders on Tuesday announced their roster of committee chairmen, all of whom have vowed to conduct vigorous oversight of the Obama administration.

In contested races, GOP lawmakers gave the gavels of three major committees to a Michigan lawmaker who successfully convinced colleagues of his conservative credentials, a reformed earmarker from Kentucky and an Alabama legislator who has repeatedly shown his skills as a political survivor.

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The House Republican Steering Committee, composed of leadership lawmakers and some rank-and-file members, officially tapped all chairmen who will serve in the 111th Congress. But the most drama centered on the contested races for Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, and Financial Services.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) won a bruising race for the Energy and Commerce Committee, but it wasn’t easy. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who attracted criticism from the White House and fellow Republicans earlier this year for his infamous apology to BP amid the massive oil spill off the Gulf Coast, racked up endorsements from conservative members and groups.

Barton sought a waiver to the GOP’s rule that prohibits members from remaining in a top committee perch for more than six years, but it was denied.
Some in the GOP argued that Upton was not conservative enough to run a committee that has jurisdiction over energy, healthcare and telecommunications, among many other issues.

Upton, however, persuaded Republicans that he would be loyal to the GOP leadership and would stand up to the Obama White House.

Other members who were in the Energy and Commerce race included Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.).

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) beat out Appropriations Committee ranking member Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) to nab the chairmanship of the spending panel. Like Barton, Lewis’s requested waiver to the GOP’s six-year rule was rejected.

Kingston’s bid picked up momentum over the last couple of weeks when he snagged an endorsement from the Club for Growth and backing from Tea Party activists. But Republican leaders never warmed to the idea of a Kingston chairmanship, even though the nine-term lawmaker did not seek earmarks as aggressively as Lewis or Rogers in previous Congresses.

House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) this week endorsed anti-earmark Rep. Jeff Flake’s (R-Ariz.) bid to join the Appropriations Committee. That move was seen as placating anti-government-spending groups that wanted Kingston to become chairman.

Rogers, Lewis and Kingston all endorsed Boehner’s call for an earmark moratorium in the next Congress.

After the 2008 elections, Boehner sought to oust Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) as the ranking member of the Financial Services Committee. House Republicans were extremely disappointed in Bachus’s leadership during the 2008 bailout deliberations.

Yet Bachus persevered, surviving Boehner’s attempt to oust him.

Criticism of Bachus continued in the 111th Congress as Republican lawmakers privately said the Alabama congressman was no match for House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) during the Wall Street reform debate.

Following the Nov. 2 election, Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) announced he was challenging Bachus. His effort failed to gather momentum, and Bachus was awarded the gavel on Tuesday.

Boehner on Tuesday called each of the candidates in the contested races to share the news shortly before the Republican Steering Committee announced its decisions on chairmanships.

Bachus will play a leading role in the oversight of the Wall Street reform law that Democrats passed earlier this year.

Upton will work with other committee chairmen, including fellow Michigan Rep. Dave Camp (R), on the GOP’s uphill battle to repeal and replace Obama’s healthcare overhaul. Camp will head the Ways and Means Committee.

The White House will battle the GOP’s efforts on the healthcare and financial reform laws, but could partner with Republicans on earmarks.

Obama has vowed a major crackdown on earmarks, which has been met with some resistance from Democratic lawmakers, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).

Rogers and Obama are expected to clash on government spending as Republicans seek major cuts next year. Additionally, Republicans might attempt to use the appropriations process to derail the implementation of what GOP officials have dubbed “ObamaCare.”

The House GOP conference on Wednesday will formally approve its new chairmen.

At press time, Barton congratulated Upton on his victory.

In a memo sent to GOP lawmakers Tuesday night, Upton pledged to tap anti-abortion rights Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) to head the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee.

“The fight to repeal Obamacare starts now...Together, we will protect the sanctity of life, ensuring early next Congress that no federal funds are used for abortion,” Upton wrote in the memo.

Boehner will soon decide who will lead the Intelligence Committee. Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) are seeking that chairmanship.

Meanwhile, House Democrats on Wednesday are scheduled to hear from candidates who are vying to become ranking members in 2011.