The election is over, the congressional leadership contests have been held and all is set for the new, Democratic-controlled Congress in January, right?
Not just yet.
Later today the House Republican Steering Committee (what Capitol Hill veterans used to know as the “Committee on Committees”) will decide who to tap as the top Republicans on six House committees. Ranking members on the 15 other standing House committees have already been selected, largely along the lines of seniority, but these final few are still being contested. And none more so than the race to serve as the senior Republican on the Financial Services Committee.
Such contests make the cliché “inside baseball” almost insufficient. Besides the members involved, their staffs, and a few K Street lobbyists, does anybody really care which member leads the loyal opposition on committees, particularly on one that many consider to be a second-tier panel? Perhaps not, but one candidates’ behind-the-scenes campaign offers an interesting window onto how such leadership contests are waged — and why Republicans and conservatives should take a keen interest in who faces the incoming Democratic chairman, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, of the committee that oversees Wall Street.
In an e-mail circulated to Hill aides, and obtained by National Review Online, allies of Rep. Richard Baker, a cerebral Louisiana Republican and one of two members vying for the ranking-member position, make their case.
Baker, a nine-term veteran and the current chairman of the Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Enterprises subcommittee, “is the only one with a pro-business, pro-investor plan…that is good for the economy, the party and our members,” the pro-Baker forces argue.
Further, they argue, Baker’s opposition for the position, Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus, just doesn’t have what it takes to go up against Frank — or challenge the powerful Republican who sits atop the Senate Banking Committee. “Baker is the only one who can advance conservative GOP principles over [Frank’s] objections and without him [Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Alab.)] will be ranking on both Senate and House committees.”
Then there are political considerations. Baker “is fiercely loyal to his leaders and party and has demonstrated that by raising $2.5 million this cycle to [try to] maintain the majority,” Baker’s backers point out. And, lastly, they note, “[New York Democratic Senator] Schumer and [Illinois Democrat] Rahm Emanuel have made [New York City] and Wall Street their primary targets of fundraising to ‘keep the [Democratic] majority’. Baker, and only baker, has the ability, gravitas, and connections to go toe to toe with these men in this vital arena.”
In an interview, a Hill source pushing Baker echoes this final point. “Baker can relate to both the Wall Street CEO and the floor trader. He speaks their language.” Another pro-Baker source on the Hill says that Bachus, an eight-term member who right now heads the Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit subcommittee, “at best will be reactionary” at a time when Republicans “need to play offense.” Bachus, Baker partisans contend, just doesn’t have the needed policy acumen and rhetorical skills to take on the shrewd Frank.
It’s this attitude that is exactly the problem with Baker, Bachus has argued. Though his office declined to comment on the race to NRO, Bachus took some thinly veiled swipes at his GOP rival in a pre-election interview with the American Banker.
“I am amazed when a major legislation is filed in this body without any consultation with industry, regulators, the consumer groups, or other members of Congress — just ‘this is what we’re going to do,’” he told the publication. “I don’t consider myself a know-it-all because the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.”
One factor that could work in Bachus’s favor was his support for John Boehner’s bid for majority leader earlier this year (Baker supporter Roy Blunt). In the weighted system, Boehner, who will serve as minority leader in the next Congress, controls five votes. A spokesman for Boehner declined to comment on his boss’s preference, but Baker’s camp has expressed concern about the leader’s leanings. Besides Boehner, incoming Minority Whip Roy Blunt has two votes and the rest of the leadership has one each. The remainder of the steering committee is filled out by mostly veteran members who represent their geographic regions in the caucus. All told there will be 29 votes cast.
It may be an inside game, but with the likely possibility of Sarbanes-Oxley being reviewed in the next session of Congress, it’s one that could have consequences well beyond the cloakroom.
– Jonathan Martin is National Review Online’s national political reporter.