News: CJ Exclusives

GOP House Delegation Poised to Gain Clout in 112th Congress

N.C. Republicans could take leadership roles in several committees

Although the Tar Heel State bucked the national trend in the midterm elections, seeing the defeat of only one incumbent House Democrat, North Carolina lawmakers stand to gain clout as the GOP takes control of the House of Representatives in the 112th Congress.

Between the 60-plus seats Republicans picked up in the House and the six they gained in the Senate, upcoming changes in committee and subcommittee leadership should boost the state’s influence.

During the first week of Congress’ lame duck session, both Republicans and Democrats selected party leaders. Republicans plan to select committee and subcommittee assignments before the end of the year, but sources tell Carolina Journal that Democrats may wait until the new Congress convenes in January before making their decisions.

North Carolina newcomer

Republican newcomer Renee Ellmers’ narrow defeat of incumbent Bob Etheridge in the contest for U.S. House District 2 signaled the only turnover in the state’s congressional delegation. Etheridge currently serves on both the Budget Committee and the Ways and Means Committee, so Republicans will have more representation on these two influential panels because they’ll be in the majority.

With a handful of seats still undecided, some committee roles may yet change hands in favor of North Carolina Republican lawmakers. Incumbent Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who ran a write-in campaign against Tea Party-backed Republican Joe Miller, has a narrow lead. But Miller has filed a lawsuit to prevent elections officials from certifying the results, citing legal issues regarding write-in ballots.

Murkowski is the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and because Murkowski ran against the GOP nominee, pundits have speculated that Sen. Richard Burr might challenge her for that position. Press Secretary David Ward told CJ that Burr believes it’s premature to discuss the leadership post since the Alaska race has yet to be settled.

Millions of political novices

Leading up to the 2010 midterm elections, millions of individuals who had never been actively involved in politics were making phone calls, visiting members of Congress, attending rallies, and volunteering with grass-roots organizations to oust those they felt were most responsible for the nation’s economic woes. Newly elected and incumbent lawmakers are finding that these voters intend to stay involved by applying pressure to ensure lawmakers are living up to their promises.

Spokesmen for several of North Carolina’s U.S. House delegation confirmed to CJ that voters already have begun contacting them on high priorities, from extending the Bush tax cuts, repealing the federal health care law, and cutting government spending to reining in burdensome, unnecessary government regulations. Voters are making it clear they want economic growth and job creation rather than more corporate bailouts and stimulus spending.

North Carolina’s incumbent Republican representatives stand to benefit by virtue of their seniority, new majority status, and the normal turnover from committee term limits. House Democrats who now chair a committee or subcommittee automatically will become the ranking member, and the current Republican ranking member mostly likely will become chair. Most committees are comprised of a roughly 2:1 ratio of majority to minority members, so Republicans inevitably will gain positions.

The House Rules Committee, with a supermajority, is one of the most important because its members decide how House business is conducted. When Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House, she and fellow Democrats changed a long-standing rule involving amendments so they could prevent minority Republicans from having any substantive input into legislation before it came up for a full vote in the House.

Democrats and President Obama promised a new era of bipartisanship and transparency, but this rule change blocked Republicans, leaving many Americans feeling that lawmakers were making deals behind closed doors that silenced them.

Opening the process

Fifth District Rep. Virginia Foxx currently serves on the Rules Committee. Spokesman Aaron Groen said a top priority for Republicans will be to open up the amendment process, allowing Democratic participation while making the process more transparent and accountable to voters.

Sixth District Rep. Howard Coble is the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy. For six years, Coble chaired the House Subcommittee on the Courts, Internet, and Intellectual Property until Democrats took control of the House in 2006 and moved intellectual property under the jurisdiction of the full House committee.

This change hindered business and economic growth, said a Coble spokesman, “because now it takes years for patents and copyrights to move through the approval process. Democrats also decided to place fees from patent and other intellectual property applications into the general Treasury rather than using them to support the U.S. Patent Office. We aim to change [that] so as to speed up the process and get business moving again to create jobs.”

Rumors persist that 9th District Rep. Sue Myrick may gain a leadership role connected with Homeland Security, but spokeswoman Taylor Stanford could not confirm that.

Tenth District Rep. Patrick McHenry, now the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee’s Information Policy, Census, and National Archives Subcommittee, may land a chairmanship of one of Oversight’s subcommittees. Press Secretary Michael Babyak said McHenry likely will continue to serve on the Oversight, Government Reform, and Financial Services committees.

A number of Democrats, including 4th District Rep. David Price and 7th District Rep. Mike McIntyre, will surrender the chairmanship of subcommittees, but as ranking members they will nonetheless maintain significant influence.

IRA’s and 401(k)’s

Along with other committee assignments, both North Carolina senators, Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Richard Burr, currently serve on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. A key issue under this committee’s jurisdiction that has received increased attention is pension reform, including 401(k) and IRA accounts.

Lawmakers in the Senate and House have been examining retirement security and discussing the possibility of supplanting private investment vehicles with some type of mandatory, government-managed retirement system that would favor automatic IRAs, forced annuitization, or Government Retirement Accounts and would function similar to the Social Security payroll deduction system but would not replace it.

Karen McMahan is a contributor to Carolina Journal.