The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

114th Congress: The New Sheriff(s) in Town

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Unlike the United States Senate, control of the House of Representatives did not change as a result of the November 4, 2014 elections.  However, the Republican majority did expand to at least 244 members, its highest level since the 1928 elections.  Two seats in Louisiana will be decided by a December 6, 2014 runoff election, while the 2nd Congressional District of Arizona is the subject of a mandatory recount, with Republican Martha McSally slightly ahead of incumbent Democrat Ron Barber.

Other changes in the House include term-limited committee chairmen who will be relinquishing their gavels to their successors when they are sworn in on January 5, 2015.  Of the 20 standing committees, eight will be helmed by new faces:  Agriculture; Armed Services; Budget; Ethics; Natural Resources; Oversight and Government Reform; Small Business; and Ways and Means.  Chairing the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will be Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who succeeds Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).  Rogers declined to run for re-election in 2014, opting for a career change to radio broadcasting.

The past votes of these legislators on spending and taxes will provide insight into their predisposition to curb government waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement, based on the ratings provided by the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW).  Vote categories range from “Taxpayer Super Hero” (100 percent) and “Hero” (80 to 99 percent), through “Friendly” (60 to 79 percent), “Lukewarm” (40 to 59 percent), “Unfriendly” (20 to 39 percent), and “Hostile” (0 to 19 percent).

Reauthorization of the Farm Bill is not required until 2018, but Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), the incoming chairman of the Agriculture Committee, can be expected to lay the foundation for the legislation.  And one does not capture this gavel by challenging the entrenched commodity groups and other subsidized agricultural interests.  Hailing from Midland, Texas, the six-term Congressman has a CCAGW lifetime rating of 79 percent.

Another Texan, William M. “Mac” Thornberry, will take over Armed Services, following the retirement of the outgoing chairman, Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.).  Speaking at a CAGW Policy Breakfast in 2014, then-Vice Chair Thornberry acknowledged that the current fiscal environment cannot sustain increases in defense spending reminiscent of the Reagan era, when he served as a congressional staffer for another West Texas Republican, Rep. Larry Combest.  As chairman, Rep. Thornberry will continue to focus on acquisition and procurement reform, realizing that the Pentagon’s bloated budgets leave a lot of room for criticism of those who would shunt funds to non-defense activities, despite the preeminence of national security as one of the government’s most critical functions.  However, strengthening the nation’s defense against the backdrop of sequestration will continue to be a challenge.  Like Rep. Conaway, Rep. Thornberry, who will begin his 11th term in Congress, also enjoys a CCAGW lifetime rating of 79 percent.

In January, the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), will move from chairing the Budget Committee to assume the reins of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, providing him sway over a whole host of critical issues, ranging from tax policy to the delivery of healthcare.  Given his encyclopedic knowledge of the budget process, he will remain an intellectual force on Ways and Means.  First elected in 1998, Chairman Ryan enjoys a CCAGW lifetime rating of 92 percent.

Succeeding Rep. Ryan at the Budget Committee will be Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a doctor from the Atlanta suburbs who has been a leading advocate for a market-based alternative to Obamacare.  Moreover, he has been a longtime champion of so-called “dynamic scoring” of federal budgets:  proponents of this approach describe it as “accurate scoring,” as opposed to the current static approach that fails to factor in the positive impact of growth-oriented budgeting.  From the class of 2004, Dr. Price, like Chairman Ryan, boasts a lifetime rating of 92 percent.

The most contested race for a House chairmanship in the 114th Congress was in the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, referred to simply as “OGR.”  Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) prevailed over more senior committee members, Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.), Michael Turner (R-Ohio), and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).  Although first elected to Congress in 2008, Rep. Chaffetz embodies the feistiness more often associated with the pivotal “Tea Party” class of 2010.  As a CCAGW Taxpayer Hero, he enjoys a lifetime rating of 94 percent.

The Committee on Small Business will be chaired by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).  In his most recent incarnation as a member of the 2010 class, Rep. Chabot has achieved a near-perfect CCAGW rating of 99 percent.  But this does not tell the whole story, as he was first elected to Congress in 1994 and served until his defeat in 2008, during which Rep. Chabot achieved a 100 percent rating for a record six consecutive years (1997-2002) as “Taxpayer Super Hero.”

The Committee on Natural Resources will be chaired by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).  First elected in 2002, his CCAGW lifetime rating is 77 percent.  Leading the Ethics Committee will be Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a member of the class of 2004 with a CCAGW lifetime rating of 55 percent.

There won’t be any white smoke emanating from the spending chimneys of the U.S. Capitol, unless the kindling has been stoked by Washington’s own “College of Cardinals.”  These are the chairs of the 12 House appropriations subcommittees responsible for funding the government under the continued leadership of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who has a CCAGW lifetime rating of 58 percent.

The gavel will not change hands on seven of the 12 panels.  These include, with their CCAGW lifetime ratings:  Agriculture and Rural Development (Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., 60 percent); Defense (Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., 57 percent);  Energy and Water Development (Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, 54 percent); Financial Services (Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., 57 percent); Homeland Security (John Carter, R-Texas, 65 percent); Interior and Environment (Ken Calvert, R-Calif., 62 percent); and State and Foreign Operations (Kay Granger, R-Texas, 64 percent).

On the remaining five subcommittees, two current chairs will be “trading up” in the funding hierarchy pecking order.  With a lifetime rating of 71 percent, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Chairman John Abney Culberson (R-Texas) will leave the to take over Commerce, Justice, and Science, where he succeeds Chairman Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who retired from representing his northern Virginia congressional district.  Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), the only “Cardinal” that rates as a “Taxpayer Hero” (98 percent lifetime rating), will assume leadership of the Legislative Branch Subcommittee from Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who has a lifetime CCAGW rating of 58 percent and will take over the often controversial Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education from Chairman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).  Rep. Kingston relinquished his House seat in an unsuccessful bid for the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

In addition to Rep. Graves, two new “Cardinals” include Rep. Dent, who, in addition to chairing the House Ethics Committee, will succeed Rep. Culberson at the helm of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, while Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), with a lifetime rating of 49 percent, will succeed retiring Chairman Tom Latham (R-Iowa) as head of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Subcommittee.

With the exception of Rep. Graves, the prospects of restrained spending under the expanded Republican majority can certainly be questioned, since none of the other chairs score higher than “Friendly” on their lifetime ratings.

The bottom line?  Republicans talk a good “fiscal conservative” game on the campaign trail, particularly during wave elections like 1994, 2010, and 2014.  But their leadership actions, as measured by a “lifetime” of spending votes on Capitol Hill, may not speak as loudly as their election-year words.

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