With the Democrats’ takeover of the House in the Nov. 7 elections, lawmakers in line to become chairmen of key committees already are sketching out their agendas. Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to announce her choices to be committee chairs soon. Those selections would then be voted on by House Democrats in an action that could come Nov. 15.
Here is what’s expected at three key committees by the likely chairmen.
Transportation and Infrastructure: James L. Oberstar
Bills authorizing funds for water resources, aviation and water infrastructure programs are among the priorities for Rep. James L. Oberstar of Minnesota, the transportation panel’s top Democrat and expected next chairman. Speaking to reporters in Duluth the day after being re-elected to his 17th term, Oberstar said he wants to approve a new Water Resources Development Act, if one isn’t approved in the lame-duck session slated to begin Nov. 13.
WRDA bills cleared the House and Senate earlier this year and conferees from each chamber had begun to reconcile those two versions before Congress recessed in late September. The measures would authorize at least $12 billion for Army Corps of Engineers projects. If a new WRDA is signed into law, it would be the first such bill enacted since December 2000.
Oberstar also said he wants to reauthorize the Clean Water state revolving loan fund that helps finance sewage treatment plants.
In addition, the transportation and infrastructure committee next year is scheduled to work on a new authorization for Federal Aviation Administration programs, including Airport Improvement Program construction grants. The current measure, the 2004 “Vision 100” statute, expires in 2007. In the new aviation bill, Oberstar said he wants to retain the “integrity” of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, according to a statement from his office.
Other items on his list include working to make the Federal Emergency Management Agency as effective as it was during the Clinton administration and to address port security. But on those two issues, the transportation panel will have to work with the Homeland Security Committee, which has prime jurisdiction over Dept. of Homeland Security programs.
Having been in the minority since 1995, when Republicans gained control of the House, Oberstar said, “I feel like Moses coming out of the desert after 40 years.” But he said he wants to see bipartisanship continue on the transportation committee. “We’ve won the majority,” he said. “The challenge now is to govern....It’s not about Democratic roads or Republican bridges.
If we work together we can build American roads and American bridges.”
Energy and Commerce: John D. Dingell Jr.
Superfund, nuclear waste disposal and a review of last year’s energy policy measure are among the long list of issues Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) wants to tackle next year if he becomes chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The panel has one of the broadest jurisdictions among congressional committees, covering environment, energy, health care and telecommunications, among other areas.
In a telephone press conference from Michigan on Nov. 8, Dingell said, “We’re going to have to address problems in the environment,” including leaking underground tanks, brownfields and the Superfund hazardous-waste cleanup program.
Dingell, 80, has the most seniority of any current House member, coming to the chamber in 1955 when he succeeded his father who died in office.
In answering a wide range of questions, Dingell said the Superfund program “is short of money and desperately so.” He added, “There also have been very few actions by this administration to clean up Superfund sites...We will take a look at those matters.”
Among energy issues, Dingell said he wants to see the U.S. reduce its dependence on foreign oil and wants to encourage use of technology, diesel fuel, electric vehicles. He also favors “good conservation practices” in areas such as public buildings, including schools and colleges. Finally, he believes Congress should “take a hard look at alternative fuels.”
Asked about fuel efficiency standards, Dingell, viewed as an ally of the automobile industry, said that increasing vehicle efficiency “is a long lead-time item” and that the needs for and the costs of higher efficiency standards and “the industry’s ability to fund and markets to absorb these changes.”
While he views nuclear energy as a promising source of more energy, Dingell also wants to address lingering problems with waste. “We have to look [at] the back end of the nuclear cycle” and address the nuclear waste storage problem, he said. Dingell also said that the nuclear waste fund, financed by utility companies, has been “raided constantly” and the money isn’t going into creating a storage facility.
When he was full committee chairman, Dingell also chaired the panel’s oversight subcommittee. His probes were noted for “Dingell-grams,”—letters that included long lists of highly detailed questions Dingell expected potential witnesses to address. Asked whether he planned again to chair the oversight subcommittee and the full committee, Dingell said, "I've always enjoyed that kind of work," but noted that House rules dealing with holding committee and subcommittee chairmanships have changed since his last time in the majority.
Ways and Means: Charles B. Rangel
The tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee is expected to be chaired by Charles B. Rangel of New York.
In a Nov. 8 telephone press conference, Rangel said one of the first things he would look at would be extending a group of tax breaks, including one for research and development spending, that are scheduled to expire at the end of December. He doesn’t want to wait until the new Congress to address that issue, but take it up in the post-election session to begin Nov. 13. “I think it’s important that we do as much as we can in that area” in the lame-duck session, Rangel said. “We should take care of that right away.”
He also said he opposes rolling back existing tax cuts, calling a rollback “bad tax policy and bad politics.”
In addition, Rangel said he wants to look at the alternative minimum tax, which has affected more taxpayers in recent years. “Tackling this very complex problem would be a good test of bipartisanship,” he said.
Asked whether he plans to extend tax cuts now set to expire after 2010, something that the White House and congressional Republicans have advocated, Rangel said, “I think it’s irresponsible to say what you’re going to do in 2010.”
Said Rangel: “I’m 76 years old....I don’t buy green bananas.”