A new order: House power players to watch in the 112th Congress

By Alexander Bolton

Lawmakers in the House will jockey over the next several months to establish a new pecking order.

Some of the power players will remain the same but adopt new roles, such as outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Others, such as Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, will wield a committee gavel for the first time.

Here are several of the pivotal players to watch in the 112th Congress:

Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)

Crowley and Wasserman Schultz have been players at the periphery of the House Democratic leadership in recent years. The 112th Congress gives them the opportunity to fill the void in young centrist leadership in the Democratic caucus. The loss of 63 Democratic seats in the 2010 midterm election purged many of the centrist and conservative Democratic members from the House. Democratic strategists say that Crowley, Wasserman or other centrist-leaning lawmakers will be need to play bigger roles in order to keep the caucus from swinging too far to the left.

Incoming Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has traditionally served as the Democratic leadership’s liaison to House Republicans. But Hoyer has had a rough couple of months. Pelosi denied him the top spot in the leadership by running for House minority leader and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) challenged him for the No. 2 position. Hoyer will need allies in his efforts to reach out to the business community and House Republicans. Crowley and Wasserman Schultz could position themselves as pragmatic leaders in the mold of Hoyer.

“It will be interesting to see who emerges on the center-right of the Democratic caucus,” said a Democratic strategist.

Incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)

Boehner will set the agenda for the 112th Congress because the procedural rules of the House give him significantly more power to pass legislation than his Senate counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Entering the lame-duck session, the House had sent 420 bills across the Capitol that stalled in the Senate.

With a large majority, Boehner will send a steady stream of bills to Senate Democrats, putting them on the defensive to act.

Congressional aides expect President Obama will need to deal with Boehner directly to strike legislative compromises, something the president rarely did in the 111th Congress.

Boehner will face a challenge from within his own caucus as he tries to balance the demands of 87 new House GOP freshmen. Many of them are Tea Party-backed conservatives who will demand immediate action on cutting federal spending and repealing healthcare reform. A crucial test comes early next year when Congress will vote to raise the national debt ceiling. Boehner has pledged he will not let some of the more radical forces in Congress allow the government to shut down.

“This is going to be probably the first really big adult moment” for the new GOP majority, Boehner told The New Yorker magazine. “You can underline ‘adult’.”

Incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.)

Cantor is considered an ambitious rising star. Some of his proposals have swiftly gained political currency, such as the YouCut program that allows citizens to vote on specific spending cuts.

Congressional insiders will be watching Cantor closely to see how well he works with Boehner.

“There’s a tacit rivalry but they’ve learned to work within their individual pursuits,” said a senior Republican congressional aide. “In the last Congress, they both did an admirable job of allowing the interests of the conference to take precedence.”

Incoming Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

As budget chairman, Ryan will be at the forefront of the GOP effort to cut discretionary spending and reform the entitlement programs that make up the bulk of federal outlays in the next decade. Ryan is not afraid to make politically controversial proposals in pursuit of deficit reduction but that could put his party at risk. Democrats plan to use Ryan’s proposals to curb Medicare and Social Security spending as major campaign issues in 2012.

Incoming Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)

Issa will emerge as President Obama’s chief antagonist over the next two years. He has already set up special subcommittees to investigate the 2009 economic stimulus, government spending and the last year’s federal bailout programs, including the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). Issa has talked about his committee and its subcommittees holding as many as seven hearings a week. He has also pledged to barrage the Obama administration with subpoenas if they hold back information. Former oversight committee chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) issued more than 1,000 subpoenas to the Clinton administration. Issa could set a pace to match that record.

Incoming Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.)

Bachus will have oversight of the implementation of the financial regulatory reform bill that Congress passed in the 111th Congress. Senior Republican strategists acknowledge it will be virtually impossible to repeal healthcare reform or Wall Street reform but they expect a public backlash against some of the new regulations the Obama administration will set to implement the new laws. Bachus has jurisdiction over banking and securities trading as well as the Federal Reserve and the government-sponsored mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Incoming Reps. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.)

Incoming House Republican freshmen elected Noem and Scott to serve as liaisons with the House Republican leadership. They will give the freshman class a voice in GOP leadership meetings and will press their leaders to take immediate steps to cut government spending significantly. Boehner and other House leaders will also rely on Noem and Scott to manage the expectations of the freshman class. They may have to explain to several newly elected members that rejecting an increase in the federal debt limit or forcing a government shutdown is not a politically viable strategy for curbing the growth of the federal government.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.)

Pelosi is expected to emerge as the leader of the liberal effort to keep President Obama from going too far in pursuit of compromise with Republicans. She was loudly critical of the president’s deal with GOP leaders to extend almost all of the Bush-era tax cuts for two years and set the estate tax at a low 35 percent and apply it only to individual inheritances over $5 million.

Pelosi will play the important role of fundraiser-in-chief for House Democrats, who will have to compete with Obama and Senate Democrats for donors in 2012. Since Democrats have little chance of recapturing the House this election cycle, they will rely on Pelosi to raise money from the liberal base outside Washington.

“Senate Democrats will get the dominant share of Democratic money in town,” said a Democratic lobbyist. “Pelosi is uniquely capable of raising outside-of-Washington money.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)

Israel will set the political strategy Democrats will pursue to recapture control of the House. Former DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) helped Democrats capture the House by recruiting culturally conservative Democrats in rural areas. Israel is expected to focus on swing voters in the suburbs, a plan that will influence the policy positions taken by House Democratic leaders.

Some Democratic strategists worry that Democrats have alienated middle-income and upper-middle-income suburban voters by demanding higher taxes for families earning over $250,000 a year.

“An average couple on Long Island could each be earning $130,000 a year. We as the Democratic Party want to be telling them that we should raise their taxes?” said a Democratic aide.



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