For only the third time in half a century, control of the U.S. House of Representatives is switching parties. Come January, Republicans will take over the speakership and committee chairs. The open question, of course, is whether they can work with a Democratic Senate and White House. With President Obama armed with his veto pen, there's sure to be plenty of friction. Below, a guide to the likely House leadership and the key issues.
The Republicans' Working-Class Hero
House Minority Leader John Boehner grew up in a working-class family of Roman Catholic Democrats. He tended bar at a family-owned pub to pull himself up from blue-collar roots to become a millionaire businessman and the most powerful member of a resurgent GOP. During the campaign he urged voters to stop President Barack Obama's "job-killing agenda" by electing Republicans who will cut federal spending, extend tax cuts, repeal the Democrats' health-care law, and create a more business-friendly environment. Now, his challenge will be to help his party deliver while keeping incoming Tea Party members in sync with the Republican Establishment's agenda.
Boehner needs some legislative victories to avoid Obama branding the Republicans as obstructionists in the 2012 general election.
Ways and Means
The Playmaker on Taxes
Dave Camp is a pragmatic lawmaker who played an influential role in shaping the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, signed by President Bill Clinton. As Ways and Means chairman, Camp will be at the center of the debate over whether to extend $5 trillion worth of Bush-era tax cuts that expire on Dec. 31, if the issue doesn't get decided in the lame-duck congressional session. Camp favors extending the cuts permanently to all Americans, while President Obama favors letting taxes rise for high-earners. Other clashes could occur over estate and corporate taxes. The White House and Republicans could find common ground over free-trade deals with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.
Camp will need to balance the Republicans' push to extend the Bush tax cuts and protect business tax breaks with the GOP's deficit-reduction goals.
Jerry Lewis R-Calif.
Or Hal Rogers R-Ky.
Delivering $100 Billion In Budget Cuts
House Republicans may stage an internal fight over the Appropriations Committee chair. Jerry Lewis is considered the favorite. He once ran the panel, proving himself adept at delivering defense jobs and contracts to California, and now wants the gavel back. He'll need a waiver from his party's six-year limit on service as the top member on a committee. In the wings is Hal Rogers of Kentucky, also known for steering funds for pet projects to his district. Both could be pushed aside as dozens of incoming freshmen, determined to attack federal spending, arrive in Washington. Whoever gets the job will be under pressure to deliver on Republican leaders' pledge to cut $100 billion as early as January. They say the cuts will come from $477 billion in non-defense domestic programs, excluding Social Security and Medicare. Cutting popular programs such as Pell college grants and ending earmarks will be tough.
The incoming Appropriations Committee chairman will be under pressure to deliver $100 billion in spending cuts.
(Adds correct photo of Republican Hal Rogers of Kentucy)
Putting a Leash on the Regulators
If Spencer Bachus ends up running the House Financial Services Committee, he and other Republicans will try to rein in regulators now writing new rules for the financial services industry. Bachus also hopes to phase out government support for mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. House Republicans want to restrict the independence of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and revisit the regulation of derivatives spelled out in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Bachus, who says he wants to work with Democrats, is likely to be challenged for the gavel by 10-termer Ed Royce of California.
Bachus wants to keep financial regulators in check and phase out government support for Fannie and Freddie.
The Man with the Magnifying Glass
Darrell Issa, poised to be chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has called Obama "one of the most corrupt Presidents in modern times." Issa plans to investigate more than $800 billion of stimulus spending and hiring practices at the Defense Dept., which he claims has illegally recruited private contractors into government service. Issa, the son of a Lebanese immigrant and who made a fortune in the car alarm business, has been, ahem, sounding the alarm over what he calls the Federal Reserve's backdoor bailouts to American International Group creditors during the financial crisis. He says he plans to increase oversight of the central bank, because it controls "trillions of dollars of guarantees" unsupervised by Congress. Other possible targets include Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and climate-change scientists.
Issa is a tenacious investigator who will keep the White House and the Fed on the defensive.
One of the few Republicans offering concrete proposals for cutting spending has been Paul Ryan, who is expected to take the helm of the Budget Committee. His "Roadmap for America's Future" would establish a voucher system for Medicare, scrap tax exemptions for employer-based health benefits in favor of individual tax credits, and let workers under the age of 55 steer a portion of their Social Security taxes into private accounts. The plan elevated Ryan, 40, from an up-and-comer to a full-fledged political star. It also became a punching bag for Democrats, and some Republicans who distanced themselves from Ryan's proposals, concerned they would be viewed as too extreme by independent voters.
Ryan could play a key role if President Obama's deficit commission recommends long-term changes in entitlement programs.
Friend of Contractors, Tough on China
If Howard "Buck" McKeon gets the nod as chairman of the Armed Services Committee as expected, contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon may get a boost for their weapons programs. Victorious House Republicans likely will spare the Pentagon from budget cuts and pursue a more muscular approach toward threats from China. McKeon, whose district is home to defense plants and Edwards Air Force Base, is co-chairman of a caucus promoting the use of military drones. The new House Republican majority will probably also explore ways to raise missile defense spending and control military health-care costs.
McKeon will be an advocate of missile defense and will try to shield the Pentagon from painful budget cuts.