Regardless of November Election Results...Written By: CHRISTIAN KLEIN
Article Date: 08-01-2006
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
New Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman is certain.
Although predictions about the upcoming November elections may vary, one thing is certain: There will be a change in congressional committee chairmen. Under Republican-imposed House rules adopted in 1995, chairmen are limited to a total of six years (three two-year terms) before they must relinquish the gavel. This makes a year such as this one full of campaigning - not just for re-election, but for support in the chairmanship bid. Those of you who followed the recent highway reauthorization saga may recognize the name of Rep. Don Young (R-AK), who chairs the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee. This position allows Chairman Young to control the schedule of hearings and mark-ups and to control the content of major legislation that moves through his committee. Chairmen also determine the fate of legislation by choosing to either bring it to committee or let it languish. Nonetheless, having a good relationship with the T&I committee chairman, as AED does, is critical when legislative issues affecting distributors arise in the context of the highway program.
A relationship with the chairman also helps when word of a detrimental proposal surfaces. We recently reported on an issue concerning the line-item veto, where legislation could potentially divert money from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The issue was immediately brought to the attention of Chairman Don Young and Vice-Chairman Thomas Petri (R-WI), who worked to amend the bill and protect the HTF.
Each political party determines membership on committees, with preference given to the most senior members. Chairman positions are awarded to members of whichever party holds the majority in Congress. Once committee membership is determined, the "rank" of the committee members is determined by seniority. Besides chairmen, each committee has a "Ranking Member," who is the most senior member of the minority party. In the case of T&I, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) is the ranking member and would likely become chairman if the Democrats take over the House in November.
Committee chairman are chosen based on a variety of factors including seniority, party loyalty, their role in leadership, and their assistance in the election of other Republican members. Many committee chairmen, because of their powerful positions, will attend fundraising events to help other members raise money, or will contribute money to campaigns through their own leadership PACs. However, it is not just a money game, the personality, leadership ability, and
popularity of the individual are also important. Even then, nothing is certain.
Young's term as chairman of the T&I Committee will expire at the end of this Congress. Among potential successors, the front runners are Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI), Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) and Rep. John Mica (R-FL). Each member is currently a chairman of a T&I Subcommittee. Petri chairs the Highway, Transit and Pipelines Subcommittee, Mica chairs the Aviation Subcommittee, and Duncan chairs the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. Duncan was a speaker at the 2006 AED Government Affairs Conference. Petri and Young are both past recipients of AED's Legislative Leadership Award.
As potential committee chairmen, each representative is concerned not only with his own re-election campaign, but is also campaigning for the committee chairmanship. While some members are open about their intentions, others tend to prefer behind-the-scenes work, concentrating on the legislation and election at hand.
Once the election results are tallied and the 110th Congress is sworn in, committee assignments will be created. We can expect new membership and chairmen in January 2007, when the current chairmanships expire. No matter the outcome, AED is fortunate to have good working relationships with all potential T&I chairmen and with the committee as a whole.
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