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November 14, 2014

Impact Of 2014 Elections On Key Congressional Committees


With Republicans recapturing the Senate majority, GOP lawmakers now take the helm of several Senate committees of interest. For the most part, those Republican Senators who were ranking members now move into the chair roles.

Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee: Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) will take over the EPW reins from Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). His committee will have the primary role in amending the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Senator Inhofe was lauded by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) for his assistance in working with stakeholders on TSCA reform. In a public statement, Senator Inhofe stated that although TSCA's current risk-based review process protects human health and the environment, he is open to changes to the law "but only if those changes modernize chemical reviews, increase public understanding of the process, and strengthen protections for human health and the environment." He set forth several principles that he believes any TSCA revisions must follow. These are:

* The use of data and methods based on the best available science and risk-based assessment.

* Including cost/benefit considerations for the private-sector and consumers.

* Protecting proprietary business information, as well as information that should be protected for security reasons.

* Prioritizing reviews for existing chemicals.

* Eliminating provisions that encourage litigation or citizen suits.

* Avoiding provisions that compel product substitution.

Senator Inhofe is an unabashed skeptic of climate change and critic of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). He has sponsored numerous bills aiming to "rein in" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He is also likely to be critical of many of EPA's most prominent rules, including those on powerplant emissions, fracking, water quality, and other issues. He will likely be joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Budget Committee: Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) will take over the Budget Committee. He is a fiscal conservative, a budget hawk, and a vocal critic of the Obama Administration's spending policies.

Finance Committee: Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will take the helm of the Finance Committee and will have significant influence on the prospects for major tax and trade reform. He is a conservative politician, but one who has demonstrated the ability and willingness to reach across the aisle to Democrats.

Energy and Natural Resources Committee: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) takes over this Committee and is most likely to battle federal control of mining and drilling interests.

In the House, Republicans retained control in the mid-term elections, but because of retirements and party-imposed term limits on committee Chairs, more than half a dozen committees will be getting new Chairs. Under House rules, GOP members can only serve three terms as senior members of a committee, unless they are granted a waiver by the Republican Steering Committee. Major House committees of interest expected to get new leaders next year include:

Agriculture Committee: With Oklahoma Representative Frank Lucas term-limited, Representative Michael Conaway (R-TX) is the most likely replacement. Representative Conaway now chairs the Ethics Committee.

Budget Committee: Representative Tom Price (R-GA) is in line to succeed Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Chair of the Budget Committee. Representative Price worked closely with Representative Ryan in assembling prior GOP budgets and he is likely to take a similar approach in crafting this year's budget.

Natural Resources Committee: Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) is expected to take over this Committee. He has pushed for more oil and gas leases on federal land and has accused the Obama Administration of using the Antiquities Act to designate unilaterally public acreage as national monuments off limits to developers.

Oversight and Government Reform Committee: In a bit of good news for the Obama Administration, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) is considered the favorite to succeed term-limited Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA). Representative Chaffetz will likely be challenged by Representative Michael Turner (R-OH) and Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH). Representative Chaffetz, who currently chairs the Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on National Security, has led the investigation into security breaches involving the Secret Service, giving him a high-profile. He has a reputation for being less confrontational than Representative Issa and has reached out to Democrats on the panel, including Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD). Representative Issa has been a major burr under the Obama Administration's saddle, leading investigations into the Internal Revenue Service — the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, among other topics. Along the way he has alienated not just Democrats but also fellow Republicans with his confrontational and overbearing style. Chaffetz has made it clear he would do things differently. A strong conservative, he is liked by fellow Republicans and viewed as being dogged but not shrill in his committee role.

Ways and Means Committee: Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to move from the Budget Committee to become Chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, which is arguably the most powerful House Committee chairpersonship.