Young Turks scored big victories over Old Bulls as key House Republicans - guided by the firm hand of the next speaker, John Boehner, R-Ohio, selected committee chairs for the new Congress late Tuesday.
Action behind closed doors, later disclosed by lawmakers, saw the GOP Steering Committee vote to approve Hal Rogers of Kentucky as the next Appropriations Committee chairman and Fred Upton of Michigan as the next chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Both men had waged spirited campaigns for their respective leadership positions against older colleagues who had formerly led the panels being contested.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas had sought to return as chairman of Energy and Commerce, despite having committed a major gaffe in June, when - during a committee hearing on the Gulf Coast oil spill - he apologized to the BP company and described its $20 billion compensation fund as a "shakedown." At the same time, Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, who turned seventy-six shortly before Election Day, had sought to reclaim the gavel at the Appropriations Committee.
In a statement after the votes, Rogers said he was "humbled and thrilled" by the Steering Committee's decision, and warned of the difficulty ahead as the Congress tackles the "tough and demanding chore" of balancing the federal budget.
"I look forward to working with Leadership and my Republican colleagues in fighting for serious reforms of the Committee, bringing fiscal sanity back to our budgeting process, performing vigorous oversight of the failed job-creation policies of the Obama Administration and moving our nation forward," Rogers said.Upton issued a similar statement, saying: "I look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with Speaker Boehner, Leader [Eric] Cantor, Whip [Kevin] McCarthy and the entire Republican Conference as we repeal Obamacare, fight rampant job-killing regulations, cut spending, and help put folks back to work."Supporters of Barton, arguing that Upton is not a true conservative, had circulated a long, unsigned memo decrying instances when they said the Michigan lawmaker sided against conservatives and voted with the Obama administration.
But Barton had angered GOP leaders numerous times - as when he posted corporate health care documents online and balked at removing them, and during the BP hearings. "And at that point in time," former House GOP leadership aide Ron Bonjean told Fox News, "everybody threw their hands up in the air and said, ‘If we get the majority back, it's going to be highly unlikely that Barton is going to resume being chairman.'"
One of the biggest surprises of the process came late Monday, when Boehner - who controls a majority of the seats on the Steering committee - released a statement endorsing Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona for a seat on Appropriations. Two years earlier, Flake, an ardent opponent of earmarks, had sought a seat on the panel, but the GOP leadership - then supporting earmarks - rebuffed him.
Now, prodded in part by Tea Party activists - who backed Flake - the GOP leadership has embraced a ban on earmarks, which are a favorite means for lawmakers to steer taxpayer funds to their own home districts, often for pork projects. Boehner's support for Flake joining the Appropriations Committee is seen as a signal of the leader's respect for the power of the Tea Party movement.
"Boehner, very early on, has to show the Tea Party-backed candidates, these now new members, that they have a stake, that they have a seat at the table," said Erin Billings, deputy editor of Roll Call. "If he doesn't do that, they're not going to feel loyal to him and he's going to have a lot of trouble."
Appearing on "Your World with Neil Cavuto" on Monday, after Boehner's endorsement had surfaced, Flake noted that he would be the panel's first opponent of earmarks. "If you have been on the committee, I think, by definition, you have been earmarking. So, we are just going to have to change direction," Flake said. "We are going to have to make some deep, deep cuts in very popular programs."
The Energy and Commerce battle attracted a great deal of attention because, like Appropriations, its jurisdiction is virtually unlimited. Both panels, for example, will play a role in Republicans' efforts to repeal, or at least de-fund, President Obama's health care law. Summing up his panel's purview, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., a longtime chair of Energy and Commerce, is reputed to have said: "If it moves, it's energy. If it doesn't, it's commerce."
The full House GOP conference will meet on Wednesday to vote on the Steering Committee's recommendations. But seldom do lawmakers steer away from the Steering Committee's picks. Lawmakers said it will take another two weeks before all of the rank-and-file committee memberships are assigned.
Chad Pergram and John Brandt contributed to this report.