GOP Majority Also Brings New Leadership On Key Committees
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And we begin this hour with a look beyond the headline Republicans take control of the Senate. What will that mean exactly for the committees whose work has an impact on broad parts of American life? GOP lawmakers will soon be in charge of key committees - armed services, banking and environment, just to name a few. And to talk about these changes in the next Congress, here's NPR's political editor Charlie Mahtesian. Hiya, Charlie.
CHARLIE MAHTESIAN, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: So which committees are worth watching?
MAHTESIAN: Well, I'd start with the Armed Services Committee, where Senator John McCain of Arizona is poised to take over as the chairman. And now that means that a former Navy pilot, an ex-prisoner of war and a very sharp Obama administration critic will head the committee charged with oversight of the nation's military and the Department of Defense. Another committee to watch would be the Judiciary Committee where Iowa Senator Charles Grassley will take the helm, and when he takes over there that would make him the first non-lawyer in history to chair the Judiciary Committee. Then, I think, a third committee that bears watching would be the Agriculture Committee, which is getting new leadership from Kansas Senator Pat Roberts. Now, I think that's a really interesting case because it's hard to find someone better acquainted with the terrain since Pat Roberts also served as the Agriculture Committee chairman in the House 20 years ago.
SIEGEL: So in the Senate, of course, the Republicans have just taken the majority. In the House they already had the majority, but even in that chamber there are more than half a dozen committees that'll have new chairs, including some pretty big ones like Budget, Ways and Means.
MAHTESIAN: Right, there's no change of party control in the House so we're not going to see the same kind of wholesale leadership turnover. But we'll still see some new faces and influential chairmanships as a result of retirements and House Republican rules that impose term limits on committee chairman. Budget Committee, for example, is likely to see Tom Price, who is a conservative orthopedic surgeon from the Atlanta suburbs, as its next chairman, and if you look at the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the tax code, that's likely to be chaired by very familiar name - Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, the fiscal policy wonk who most people will recognize as the Republican Party's nominee for vice president in 2012.
SIEGEL: But what does all this likely mean for policy? Should we expect major changes?
MAHTESIAN: Over time, yes. The Senate is where we can expect the biggest shifts, I think. And that's a direct result of the Republican takeover. And I think there's one great example there that really crystallizes this - at present, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is chaired by Barbara Boxer of California, who's one of the Senate's staunchest liberals and is someone who's made climate change a legislative priority. She's likely to be replaced by Jim Inhofe of oil and gas rich Oklahoma and he's a conservative who has called climate change a hoax. And now most of the policy differences you'll see aren't that dramatic, but I think it gives you a flavor of the differences that one election can make.
SIEGEL: Well, when it comes to new committee leadership, which states are winners? Which states are losers?
MAHTESIAN: Well, that's a good way to put it because I think with every new Congress power ebbs and flows for certain states. And naturally, southern states are poised to do better under a Republican Congress because that region sends so many Republicans to Washington. By the same token, California was the big dog in terms of committee chairmanships back when Democrats controlled the House and Senate a few years ago. Now, if you were to take a look at a state like Michigan, it's about to suffer a pretty significant loss in clout in part because some of its most powerful members are retiring this year. And those are recognizable names, like longtime Democratic Representative John Dingell and also it's losing the Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, and that's not the only reason why Michigan will lose clout. The other reason would be the change of party control in the Senate means that the state's Democratic senator, who's named Debbie Stabenow, she's going to lose her Agriculture Committee chairmanship to a Republican.
SIEGEL: And one Republican state that's looking a lot more powerful in the coming Senate?
MAHTESIAN: I think a good example would be Alabama, which isn't as big as some of the mega-states. But all of a sudden as a result of the Republican takeover of the Senate, Alabama senators are poised to take over two very influential committees - Banking and Budget.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Charlie Mahtesian. Charlie, thank you.
MAHTESIAN: Thank you, Robert.