The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

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

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.


In the last 60 years, since Republicans relinquished their Senate majority to the Democrats on January 3, 1955, the Grand Old Party has controlled the United States Senate for only 16 years (plus four months*), and they shared control with the House of Representatives for only 10 of those years, as well as the aforementioned four months.  Looking back even further to 1933, the GOP held the Senate for only an additional four years, all shared with the House.  This January, as a result of the 2014 “wave” election, the Republicans once again control both chambers.

*The election of 2000 marked a unique point in American political history, when the country was almost evenly divided:  The Republicans lost their 10-seat advantage in the Senate, ending up in a 50-50 tie, broken by the sitting Vice President.  This meant that, for 17 days in early 2001, Vice President Al Gore swayed the chamber in the Democrats’ favor, until his successor, Dick Cheney, was inaugurated on January 20.  Then, the chamber returned to Republican control, but for only four months until May 24, when the liberal Republican senator from Vermont, Jim Jeffords, left the party, declared himself an Independent, and opted to caucus with the Democrats.  While the parties compromised to retain existing committee staff and keep the committee ratios evenly divided for the remainder of the 107th Congress, Democrats enjoyed majority status until January, 2003, when the Republicans swore in a net advantage of three seats.

Across campus, the House of Representatives, already in the majority since the 2010 elections, won a total of 247 seats, its largest majority since the 1928 elections.  That number has since lessened by one, after Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) resigned in December on the heels of a felony conviction earlier in 2014, despite handily winning re-election in November.

Since the December edition of this publication, three more seats that remained undecided at press time have all gone Republican:  Col. Martha McSally prevailed in the mandatory recount of her victory over the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Ron Barber, in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, while Ralph Abraham and Garret Graves won their respective run-off elections in Louisiana’s 5th and 6th Congressional Districts, both open seats.

In addition to electing a new Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Republican majority has selected its committee chairs for the 114th Congress.  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 lifetime 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).

Of the 17 standing committees and three select or special committees (Intelligence, Ethics, and Aging), nine will be helmed by senators that had served as the Ranking Member (senior Republican) of their respective committees under the Democratic majority.  These senators, with their CCAGW lifetime ratings, include:  Commerce, Science & Transportation, John Thune (R-S.D.), 80 percent; Energy & Natural Resources, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), 60 percent; Finance, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), 72 percent;  Foreign Relations, Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), 86 percent; Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), 74 percent; Indian Affairs, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), 90 percent; Judiciary, Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), 78 percent; the Special Committee on Aging, Susan Collins (R-Maine), 54 percent; and the Select Committee on Ethics, Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), 85 percent.

Sen. Isakson will also chair the Veterans Affairs Committee, the only senator to lead two full committees.  Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who ranked ahead of Sen. Isakson on that committee, will instead lead the Select Committee on Intelligence, where Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who retired in 2014, was the ranking member.  Sen. Burr has a CCAGW lifetime rating of 90 percent.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a CCAGW “Taxpayer Hero” with a 90 percent rating, will wield the gavel of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  Sen. McCain was also next in line, with the retirement of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), to chair the Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC); instead, he opted to exercise his remaining eligibility to chair SASC.  Therefore, the next ranking member of HSGAC, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), has taken over the committee.  Sen. Johnson has a lifetime rating of 97 percent and was named a “Taxpayer Super Hero” twice during his first three years in the Senate, earning a perfect 100 percent in both 2011 and 2013.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), 72 percent, will lead Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry; while Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), 61 percent, will once again chair the Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee.  Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), 83 percent, will return as head of the Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee; while last year’s EPW ranking member, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), 81 percent, will chair Small Business & Entrepreneurship.

Perhaps the most interesting development occurred with the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee, where Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has been the firebrand voice of opposition during Democratic majority rule.  It was widely believed that he might ascend to the chairmanship; however, the issue was ultimately resolved through the Senate’s traditional deference to seniority.  Sen. Sessions and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) were both elected to the Senate in 1996, and they both joined the Budget Committee in 2003.  Therefore, the trump card ended up being, quite literally, the luck of the draw:  When they were first sworn in to the Senate, they drew lots to determine seniority.  Sen. Enzi, whose CCAGW lifetime rating is 82 percent, drew the better number, and he now chairs the Senate Budget Committee. 

On a more humorous note, the Rules & Administration Committee will be chaired by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), 73 percent, the seventh-ranked Republican on the committee last year and senior only to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during the last Congress.  Remaining on the committee, but chairing other full committees, are Sens. Alexander, Cochran, Roberts, and Shelby, while another returning member, Sen. McConnell, will be otherwise engaged leading the majority.

Last but not least, the Appropriations Committee will be chaired by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), 58 percent.  In that capacity, he will preside over Washington’s own “College of Cardinals.”  These are the chairs of the 12 Senate appropriations subcommittees responsible for funding the government.  In addition to chairing the full committee, Sen. Cochran will also chair the powerful Subcommittee on Defense.  Furthermore, four of the incoming freshman senators (Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Bill Cassidy, R-La.; Steve Daines, R-Mont.; and James Lankford, R-Okla.) have been named to the coveted funding panel.  And Senate Majority Leader McConnell also remains as an appropriator, while Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) has moved to the Finance Committee.

The incoming “cardinals,” announced on January 20, 2015, include, with their CCAGW lifetime ratings:  Agriculture and Rural Development (Jerry Moran, R-Kan., 80 percent); Commerce, Justice, and Science (Richard Shelby, R-Ala., 61 percent); Energy and Water Development (Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., 74 percent); Financial Services and General Government (John Boozman, R-Ark., 82 percent); Homeland Security (John Hoeven, R-N.D., 67 percent); Interior and Environment (Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, 60 percent); Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Roy Blunt, R-Mo., 73 percent); Legislative Branch (Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., whose CCAGW lifetime rating in the House of Representatives was 49 percent); Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (Mark Kirk, R-Ill., 81 percent); State and Foreign Operations (Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., 85 percent); and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (Susan Collins, R-Maine, 54 percent).

The prospects of restrained spending under the new Republican majority in the Senate remain questionable.  Those charged with writing the spending bills enjoy a cohort average of about 70 percent, earning the class collectively a “Friendly” CCAGW lifetime rating.  Individually, however, some appropriators rate merely “Lukewarm,” while only four of the 12 qualify as “Taxpayer Heroes.”

The bottom line?  Republicans talked 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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