Who Will Lead House Oversight and Government Reform?
Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) victory over Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) in the "Clash of the Titans" battle to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee means Waxman will step down as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The California Democrat has led Congress' main investigative committee since 2007. He served as ranking member starting in 1997.
Waxman's move sets up yet another battle to control yet another key committee. Seniority is no longer the only factor determining who gets chairmanships, as the fight for Energy and Commerce demonstrated, but in practice it's still the most important. Expect a delicate battle that could incorporate seniority, age and between three members: Reps. Edolphus "Ed" Towns, Carolyn Maloney and Elijah Cummings. Towns is the most senior member of the trio, but Cummings may be seen by colleagues as the most effective chairman. Here's a review of the Democratic contenders in order of seniority:
1.) Rep. Edolphus "Ed" Towns (D-N.Y.) is the committee's second-ranking Democrat and hails from Brooklyn. He's currently chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement. He is interested in the chairmanship now that Waxman is out, according to staffers. While some might consider him too low-key a person to lead such a visible committee (one Republican staffer called him a "quiet" presence), Towns's supporters suggest his drama-free style would be an asset in the post.
"Ed Towns has the temperament to avoid entanglement in partisan public fights that distract from the message of the Democratic Congress. He is truly a coalition builder," a statement from his office reads.
"You won't see the 'Burton-Waxman' fights of the past," one Democratic staffer said, adding that Towns would "turn the temperature down." Staffers note he's worked on legislation related to fraud and abuse by federal contractors, the independence of Inspectors General and security of federal computer systems.
2.) Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) was first elected to the House in 1992 and represents the East side of Manhattan and Astoria, Queens. She serves on the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, the Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement, and the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives. Most recently she sponsored the Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act of 2008 that will eventually require all government agencies and departments to check a database of government contractors before doing business with them. As second in seniority, she could emerge as a compromise candidate to Towns and Cummings.
Maloney's spokesperson declined to comment on her intentions.
3.) Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) represents most of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County. He currently chairs the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy and the Federal Workforce, Post Office, and the District of Columbia subcommittee. There is buzz surrounding his potential ascension, with one staffer suggesting he would have support "from a lot of people in high places" if he could get beyond his respect for House seniority. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have traditionally respected the seniority system. Cummings has fans on the other side of the aisle too; a Republican staffer expressed admiration for his ability to humanize the committee's complex issues.
“If he were asked to be the chairman, he would be very honored to accept it," said spokeswoman Jennifer Kohl.
The GOP appears to have rallied around California Rep. Darrell Issa to replace the committee's current ranking member, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), who is retiring. First elected to the House in 2000, Issa represents parts of San Diego and Riverside. He has the support of the committee's nine Republican members returning to Congress in January, and it seems the telegenic Republican, who could emerge as a key party spokesman in his role on the watchdog committee, is prepping for a fight.
"It is imperative we have a leader willing to hold President-Elect Obama to his word to root out and eliminate unnecessary but popular federal programs," a letter from the nine members reads. "Darrell Issa will also take on the Committee Democrats who use the Committee for their own political purposes and as an arm of the DCCC. Darrell will not shy away from a battle and his leadership is exactly what our Conference needs for the 111th Congress and beyond."
The founder and former head of Direct Electronics, Issa bankrolled the recall campaign against then-Gov. Gray Davis (D) and tearfully ended his own bid for governor when Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged as the favorite. He also serves on the Judiciary and Select Intelligence Committees and would likely have to give up one of those slots if he becomes ranking member, a staffer said.
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