House Republican chairmen have vowed vigorous oversight of the Obama administration, but for eight of them, there are political risks involved.
Of the 20 House panel chairmen, eight represent districts won by President Obama in 2008: Reps. Buck McKeon (Calif.), Paul RyanPaul RyanDems blast Trump plans for deep spending cuts Obama tells Congress: Only 41 detainees remain at Guantanamo Ryan offers picture of public-private spending in Trump’s infrastructure plan MORE (Wis.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Dan Lungren (Calif.), David Dreier (Calif.), Mike Rogers (Mich.) and Dave Camp (Mich.).
But in their effort to win back the House, Democrats are homing in on the 61 Republicans who represent Obama-won districts. And while most of the eight committee chairmen are not considered primary targets in next year’s election, Democrats are anxious to make them sweat.
It’s not easy to defeat panel chairmen, who typically are among the best fundraisers. But it happens.
During the last cycle, three Democratic House chairmen lost: Reps. Ike Skelton (Mo.), John Spratt (S.C.) and Jim Oberstar (Minn.). Republicans also captured the seat of former Appropriations Committee David Obey (D-Wis.), who did not seek reelection.
Those losses stung Democrats, and they want payback.
|House GOP Chairman||Home District||2008 Presidential Election|
|Buck McKeon, Armed Services||Calif. 25||Obama 49%|
|Paul Ryan, Budget||Wisc. 1||Obama 51%|
|Fred Upton, Energy and Commerce||Mich. 6||Obama 54%|
|Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Foreign Affairs||Fla. 18||Obama 51%|
|Dan Lungren, Administration||Calif. 3||Obama 49.3%|
|Mike Rogers, Intelligence||Mich. 8||Obama 53%|
|David Dreier, Rules||Calif. 26||Obama 51%|
|Dave Camp, Ways and Means||Mich. 4||Obama 50%|
In an interview with The Hill earlier this year, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) said, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a [committee] chairman or not. We’re not going to be distracted by personalities. It’s going to be driven by the numbers, driven by our message, driven by our ability to mobilize.”
Jennifer Crider of the DCCC said, “The DCCC is targeting the 14 districts that were won by both President Obama and Sen. [John] Kerry [D-Mass.] as well as the 47 additional districts that were won by President Obama.”
Kerry did not win any of the eight chairmen’s districts in 2004.
The DCCC last week sent out a list of 10 districts that it is targeting in the election over the issue of Social Security reform.
Ryan, the chairman of the Budget Committee, was included in that list, as were freshman GOP lawmakers who now represent districts held previously by Democratic committee chairmen or subcommittee chairmen. They include: West Virginia Rep. David McKinleyDavid McKinleyW.Va. attorney general may challenge Manchin Overnight Tech: Trump meets Alibaba founder | Uber to make some data public | GOP Lawmakers tapped for key tech panels 10 Senate seats that could flip in 2018 MORE; Texas Rep. Blake FarentholdBlake FarentholdWhy Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog Report on warrantless surveillance shows Congress must update privacy laws A national law needed to protect online freedom of speech MORE; Pennsylvania Rep. Lou BarlettaLou BarlettaCongress asserts itself Trump’s 10 biggest allies in Congress Overnight Finance: Trump expected to pick Steven Mnuchin for Treasury | Budget chair up for grabs | Trump team gets deal on Carrier jobs MORE; Michigan Rep. Dan BenishekDan BenishekRepublican groups launch final ad blitz in key House battlegrounds Tea Party class reassesses record Michigan Republican to retire MORE; and Wisconsin Rep. Sean DuffySean DuffyGOP rep on Dems skipping inauguration: ‘Put your big-boy pants on’ Huizenga to chair influential subcommittee overseeing Wall Street Donald Trump should fire Richard Cordray MORE.
Ryan will soon be releasing his new budget plan for fiscal 2012, which is expected to call for reforms to popular entitlement programs.
Despite the political pressures, none of the eight GOP chairmen has showed any signs of easing up on Obama.
Upton, the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, has taken on the president’s healthcare reform law, Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules and policies coming from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Obama won Upton’s district by nearly 10 percentage points.
Meanwhile, Dreier has pushed Obama on trade issues and Ryan has accused the president of not leading on entitlement reform.
Camp, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said, “I’m not running against President Obama [in 2012].”
He noted many people vote differently for president than they do for their representative in the House.
He said he does not consider the political calculations of holding oversight hearings that could be viewed as too aggressive by some of his constituents.
“We have oversight, but I view oversight as shining a spotlight on government activities and making them public," Camp said. "But our oversight is: ‘Are these programs working? Are these taxpayer dollars being used effectively?'"
Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) represents a district that Obama lost to Sen. John McCainJohn McCainTillerson met with top State official: report McCain ‘very concerned’ about Tillerson US democracy is in crisis. Trump voters must help us get past it. MORE (R-Ariz.) by two percentage points.
Asked whether Obama’s standing in his district plays any role in how he handles panel hearings, Kline responded, “No. I can’t imagine that it would. I think that’s a silly road to go down.”
Kline added that the demographics of many districts will likely change due to redistricting this cycle.
Others point out that Obama is not popular as he was in 2008 or early 2009. Many political analysts say the 2012 presidential election will likely resemble the tight races of 2004 and 2000, not the blowout of 2008.
Rutgers University political science Professor Ross Baker said, “Most people would recognize that 2008 was a very unusual presidential election. After a series of very close elections, that wasn’t close, and Obama had very substantial coattails.”
He added, “If they survived 2008, they will probably survive 2012.”