Senate GOP maps out its majority plan

Senate Republicans already have their agenda set should they take the majority this fall.

Seven months before the election, the GOP senators in line to become committee chairmen know what they would do with their gavels.

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In interviews with The Hill, the senators promised to work closely with House Republicans to break the legislative gridlock that has defined Congress since 2011.

They are also vowing to step up oversight of the Obama administration dramatically and battle the president’s use of administrative power.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has vowed that if elected majority leader, he would give Republican committee chairmen more power to legislate.  

If Republicans capture the majority, the incoming chairmen must be elected by the Republican members of each committee and ratified by a vote of the Senate GOP conference. Senate Republicans have almost always followed seniority, however.

These are the expected incoming chairmen in a GOP-controlled Senate and their priorities:

 

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Finance

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is senior to Hatch and could serve two more years as chairman of the Finance Committee, but he said he’s inclined to let Hatch take the gavel. Grassley stressed he hasn’t made a final decision, however.

Hatch, who is serving his last term, said tax reform and international trade would be two of his top priorities. But he claims he would not shy away from entitlement reform, including changes to Social Security.

“The Social Security disability fund goes bankrupt in 2016. That has to be fixed. … It will take some intelligent approaches to do it. It will take some commitment to fiscal sanity to do it, but I think we can do it,” he said.

Hatch warned that getting tax reform, international trade deals and entitlement reform would depend on President Obama showing leadership on those issues.

He said he would run the committee in the same bipartisan fashion established by former Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).  

 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Judiciary

Right off the bat, Grassley wants to ratchet up the panel’s oversight of the Obama administration. He said Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has done a good job of holding hearings, but he would like to see the committee members send more letters to the administration to dig up information. 

“I don’t think there’s been enough activity that way,” he said.

Grassley’s investigative prowess helped uncover the Justice Department’s botched “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking operation, which was linked to the murder of a border patrol agent.

 

Sen. John 
McCain (Ariz.), Armed Services

McCain said he would use his power to investigate the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya: “If I were chairman, I would certainly go through a review of the whole situation.”

He would shift to a “policy-oriented” approach by getting more involved in authorizing legislation. McCain said a review of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is one possible area of review.

Overall, McCain expressed respect for the way Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has run the committee and said he would try to build bipartisan consensus.

“It’s probably the most bipartisan committee in the Senate,” he said.

 

Sen. Thad 
Cochran (Miss.), Appropriations

Cochran is in line to retake the Appropriations gavel if he can survive a significant Tea Party-backed primary challenge. Cochran is not a fan of the existing ban on earmarks. On Wednesday, Cochran argued that senators never gave up their power to earmark funds.

“An entire appropriations bill is an earmark. Every section is an earmark. So I would try to help construct provisions of the appropriations bills that are fair and serve the public interest,” he said. “Earmarks have never gone away.”

Cochran said his priority would be to “fairly allocate the resources in the appropriations bill” and “be careful about how you use the taxpayer dollars to serve the public interest.”

 

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), Banking

One of Shelby’s highest priorities is to reform the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to make it more accountable to Congress.

“What we ought to look at is the way the consumer agency under Dodd-Frank is funded. It’s funded through the Federal Reserve, not through the appropriations process. Huge, unaccountable agency,” he said.

 

Sen. Jeff 
Sessions (Ala.), Budget 

Sessions promises that he would pass a budget every year, unlike Senate Democrats, who have only passed two budget resolutions since Obama took office in January 2009.

Sessions says he would like to move a blueprint that balances the federal budget over 10 years. He acknowledges that won’t be an easy task.

“We’ll probably have to every single member of our conference support it, both our moderates and our conservatives.”

Sessions said he’d work closely with his Republican counterpart in the House.

 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski 
(Alaska), Energy and Natural 
Resources

Murkowski, who won her last race as a write-in candidate, laid out her policy agenda for the committee in “Energy 20/20,” a 121-page plan she introduced in February.

It calls on the United States to achieve independence from OPEC oil imports by 2020 and increase domestic and natural gas exports while partnering with Canada and Mexico to increase oil imports from those countries.

“I would have freshly baked cookies every single committee meeting to make sure people got there on time,” she quipped.

 

Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), Environment and Public Works 

Inhofe has little doubt Republicans will be back in charge next year.

He said his “No. 1” goal is to “end the war on fossil fuels.”

“When Republicans are in the majority, not if,” Inhofe said, he will also “immediately attack the overregulation of the EPA.”

The Oklahoma senator has charged that global warming is a conspiracy and a hoax.

 

Sen. Lamar 
Alexander (Tenn.), Health, Education Labor and Pensions 

Alexander would move to deregulate higher education. He said applying for federal student aid has become an unwieldy process.

“I think we have covered up our colleges and universities and students with so many regulations that we’re wasting money that could be spent educating them,” he said.

He said he would make bipartisanship a priority.

 

Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), Foreign Relations 

Corker has emerged as one of the most pragmatic dealmakers in the Senate GOP conference. He has emphasized the importance of Congress speaking with “one voice” in response to Russian aggression toward Ukraine. He has criticized the Obama administration for not providing more support for moderate members of the Syrian opposition.

 

Sen. Ron 
Johnson (Wis.), Homeland 
Security

Johnson is poised to vault from the third-ranking Republican on the committee to the chairmanship if Republicans win the upper chamber.

Johnson, who faces a reelection battle in 2016, has focused on reducing government spending since winning in 2010. He is expected to take up retiring Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) mission of eliminating wasteful and duplicative government programs.