New House GOP Aims To Change Washington

In just a few days, a wave of new Republicans will wash over the Capitol. More than 80 GOP freshmen will be sworn in by a new Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio. These lawmakers say they want to change the way Washington works, starting with how new laws are written and passed. Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR's Andrea Seabrook about the new lawmakers.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

In just a few days, a wave of new Republicans will wash over the Capitol. More than 80 GOP freshman will be sworn in by a new Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner of Ohio.

These lawmakers say they want to change the way Washington works, starting with how new laws are written and passed. Boehner has promised that under his speakership, committees and their chairmen will have more power to craft legislation.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook can explain what this means, and Andrea, I want to ask you first, why is this a priority for John Boehner? Don't committees already write the bills?

ANDREA SEABROOK: Well, that's the way it's supposed to happen, Liane. Bills are crafted, but the truth is, bills are crafted by leadership in private meetings oftentimes. They're negotiated with the Senate and the White House, and John Boehner wants to move back to something that's called regular order: that the committees in fact themselves do a lot of work on the laws, they pass them through the committees, including with amendments, and bring them to the floor.

It's really kind of a big change, although you wouldn't think it would be.

HANSEN: Does he want to do this because he was once a committee chairman?

SEABROOK: I think that is one of the motivations here. I mean, he was the chairman, as you say, of Education and Workforce Committee from 2001 to 2006. He helped draft No Child Left Behind. And committee chairmen, if they're given their proper duties, they make themselves professionals at their subject, and Boehner knows what it's like to be a committee chairman and then have the leadership come drop some bill that was supposed to be yours, that you're a professional at, on the floor, that's already been negotiated with the Senate and already with the White House.

So I think he really wants to return to that, and he also is trying to reduce the size of committees to make it so that lawmakers themselves aren't on three or four committees, but they can really specialize and be on one or two seriously working committees.

HANSEN: And it sounds like that will make the committee chairman more powerful.

SEABROOK: Oh, the chairmen then become very powerful because they decide which versions of the bills actually come into the committee. They decide which amendments are allowed to be debated. They can really shape the way laws come to be.

HANSEN: Okay. Tax law is written by the Ways and Means Committee. The chair will be Michigan Republican Dave Camp.

SEABROOK: Yes. This year in particular is important, because the Republicans are coming into power and they really want to rewrite the tax code. Dave Camp himself is a staunch conservative. He's been in the leadership before, and there's a big push to do a major reform of the tax code under his chairmanship.

HANSEN: Another key player on money matters would also be Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who will lead the Budget Committee.

SEABROOK: Remember, Paul Ryan is the only man in Washington who has actually put out a proposal with his name on it that would bring the budget under control. And it would do it by cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits over time.

This is the third rail of politics. There are a lot of Republicans who would love to cut Medicare and Social Security, but refuse to say they would love to because their voters would turn around in outrage against them. So Ryan has become this sort of conservative hero in Washington, because he's the bold reformer who would change Social Security and Medicare.

Now, putting him in charge of the Budget Committee is a big signal from Boehner and the other leadership that they are serious about cutting budgets and changing the way Washington is run, changing in fact, perhaps, Social Security and Medicare. And we'll see how that works out.

HANSEN: Sounds like you'll have an interesting year, Andrea.

SEABROOK: As usual.

HANSEN: That's NPR's congressional correspondent, Andrea Seabrook. Thanks. Happy new year.

SEABROOK: Thanks Liane.

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