The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

115th Congress: A New Sheriff (with a Powerful Posse) Has Arrived

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.


For the first time since Democrats turned the Speaker’s gavel over to the Republicans in January 2011, the Pennsylvania Avenue axis of power (the White House at one end of the famous street, and both chambers of Congress at the other) will be under the control of a single party.  And for the first time since the 2004 elections, that party will be the Republicans’ “Grand Old Party,” not the Democrats.  Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential race completed the trifecta that began in 2010, when Republicans won control of the House of Representatives, followed by the 2014 elections that returned control of the Senate to the GOP.

During his inauguration speech, President Trump made it clear:  there is a new sheriff in town.  And his brand new team of deputies (the cabinet) will crack down on excessive spending and regulations.  In addition to those proposed cabinet members listed in the December 2016 WasteWatcher, Mr. Trump has since nominated his choices to head the departments of Veterans Affairs (Dr. David J. Shulkin, currently the VA’s Obama-appointed Under Secretary of Health) and Agriculture (former Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia).

The House of Representatives

Other members of the new sheriff’s posse include his partisans on Capitol Hill.  The House leadership will be comprised of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Conference Secretary Jason Smith (R-Mo.), and Policy Chair Luke Messer (R-Ind.), while Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) will head the GOP’s House campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee.  Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) will continue as Chief Deputy Whip, while Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) will serve as the Vice-Chair of the conference.

Despite a challenge from a relative newcomer, eight-term Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), House Democrats re-elected former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as their party’s leader in the chamber.  Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was re-elected as the House Minority Whip.

In the House, term-limited committee chairmen from the previous Congress have relinquished their gavels to their successors.  Of the 20 standing committees, at least six will be helmed by new faces:  Appropriations; Education and the Workforce; Energy and Commerce; Ethics; House Administration; and Veterans Affairs. A seventh, the Budget Committee, will get new leadership, assuming the current chair, Dr. Tom Price (R-Ga.), is confirmed to become the new Secretary of Health and Human Services.  As of now, Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) is the Acting Chair of the committee, and she is considered the odds-on favorite to formally assume the gavel after Dr. Price’s confirmation.

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).

Those new chairs qualifying as “Taxpayer Heroes,” based on CCAGW’s 2015 Congressional Ratings (the most recent calculations available), include Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Education and the Workforce, with a lifetime rating of 87 percent; Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), Veterans Affairs, 87 percent; and assuming her eventual ascension on the Budget Committee, Diane Black (R-Tenn.), 90 percent.  The other new chairs include Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), Ethics, 79 percent; Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), Administration, 71 percent; Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Energy and Commerce, 64 percent; and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), Appropriations, 57 percent.

Committees with unchanged leadership from the previous Congress include:

Agriculture                                                                                          Mike Conaway (R-Texas), 82 percent

Armed Services                                                                                Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), 80 percent

Financial Services                                                                             Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), 96 percent

Foreign Affairs                                                                                  Ed Royce (R-Calif.), 95 percent

Homeland Security                                                                          Michael McCaul (R-Texas), 92 percent

Natural Resources                                                                           Rob Bishop (R-Utah), 79 percent

Oversight and Government Reform                                        Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), 94 percent

Rules                                                                                                     Pete Sessions (R-Texas), 88 percent

Science, Space, and Technology                                                                Lamar Smith (R-Texas), 79 percent

Small Business                                                                                   Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), 98 percent

Judiciary                                                                                               Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), 85 percent

Transportation and Infrastructure                                            Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), 61 percent

Ways and Means                                                                             Kevin Brady (R-Texas), 81 percent

Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence                     Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), 72 percent

Collectively, the House committee chairs for the 115th Congress enjoy a “Taxpayer Hero” rating of 82 percent.

With regard to the Appropriations Committee, Washington is home to its own so-called “College of Cardinals.”  For both chambers, these are the chairs of the 12 appropriations subcommittees responsible for funding the government, and in the House, the gavel will not change hands on eight of these panels.  These include (with their CCAGW lifetime ratings):

Agriculture and Rural Development                                        Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), 60 percent

Commerce, Justice, and Science                                                               John Culberson (R-Texas), 83 percent

Energy and Water Development                                                               Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), 56 percent

Homeland Security                                                                          John Carter (R-Texas), 68 percent

Interior and Environment                                                             Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), 62 percent

Labor, Health and Human Services                                           Tom Cole (R-Okla.), 59 percent

Military Construction and Veterans Affairs                            Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), 57 percent

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development            Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), 56 percent

Assuming new appropriations chairmanships in the 115th Congress are Reps. Kay Granger (R-Texas), Defense, 65 percent; Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Legislative Branch, 88 percent; Hal Rogers, (R-Ky.), the term-limited full committee chair, State and Foreign Operations, 76 percent; and with the highest rating for any appropriations subcommittee chair, Tom Graves (R-Ga.), Financial Services and General Government, 98 percent.

The Senate

In the Senate, the Republican majority has re-elected Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as their leader, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) continuing as the Majority Whip.  Additionally, the Republican Conference is chaired by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), and the Republican Policy Committee is chaired by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).  The National Republican Senatorial Committee is chaired by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), while Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) chairs the Republican Steering Committee.  Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is the President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate, making him the third in the line of succession to the presidency (following the Vice President and the Speaker of the House).

Following the retirement of Sen. Harry Reid (R-Nev.), the Democrats have elected Sen. Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the Minority Leader, with Sen. Richard “Dick” Durbin (D-Ill.) serving as the Minority Whip.

In the Senate, 13 chairmanships of the 17 standing committees and three select or special committees (Intelligence, Ethics, and Aging) will remain unchanged in the 115th Congress.  These include:

Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry                                          Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), 73 percent

Armed Services                                                                                John McCain (R-Ariz.), 90 percent

Budget                                                                                                 Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), 82 percent

Commerce, Science and Transportation                                 John Thune (R-S.D.), 82 percent

Energy and Natural Resources                                                   Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), 63 percent

Finance                                                                                                Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), 73 percent

Foreign Relations                                                                             Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), 86 percent

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions                                   Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), 74 percent

Homeland Security and  Government Affairs                      Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), 97 percent

Judiciary                                                                                               Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), 79 percent

Special Committee on Aging                                                       Susan Collins (R-Maine), 54 percent

Select Committee on Ethics                                                         Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), 84 percent

Select Committee on Intelligence                                             Richard Burr (R-N.C.), 90 percent

Sen. Isakson will also continue to chair the Veterans Affairs Committee.  The following committees will enjoy new leadership:

Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs                                         Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), 80 percent

Environment and Public Works                                                  John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), 90 percent

Indian Affairs                                                                                     John Hoeven, III (R-N.D.), 72 percent

Rules and Administration                                                             Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), 63 percent

Small Business and Entrepreneurship                                     Jim Risch (R-Idaho), 95 percent

Last but not least, the Senate Appropriations Committee will operate under the continued leadership of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), with a CCAGW lifetime rating of 59 percent.  Sen. Cochran will also chair the powerful Subcommittee on Defense Appropriations.  And Senate Majority Leader McConnell (with a lifetime rating of 75 percent) also remains as an appropriator, assuming the gavel of the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, previously held by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who was defeated for re-election.  As a class, the Senate’s full committee chairs rate less strongly than their House counterparts, averaging 79 percent (or “Friendly”) on the CCAGW scale.

The Senate’s other “cardinals” include:

Agriculture and Rural Development                                         Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), 82 percent

Commerce, Justice, and Science                                                               Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), 63 percent

Energy and Water Development                                                               Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), 74 percent

Financial Services and General Government                        John Boozman (R-Ark.), 87 percent

Homeland Security                                                                          John Hoeven, III (R-N.D.), 72 percent

Interior and Environment                                                             Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), 63 percent

Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education            Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), 78 percent

Legislative Branch                                                                            Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), 89 percent

State and Foreign Operations                                                     Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), 85 percent

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development            Susan Collins (R-Maine), 54 percent

Based on the appropriators’ ratings, the prospects of restrained spending under the Republican majorities in Congress remain questionable.  Those charged with writing the spending bills in the Senate enjoy a cohort average of about 73 percent, earning the appropriators collectively a “Friendly” CCAGW lifetime rating.  Their House counterparts average 79 percent, also “Friendly.”

Individually, however, some appropriators rate merely “Lukewarm,” including two Senators and four Representatives, while only seven cardinals in both chambers (four in the Senate and three in the House) qualify as “Taxpayer Heroes.”

The bottom line?  Republicans talk a good “fiscal conservative” game on the campaign trail, particularly during wave elections like 1994, 2010, and 2014, not to mention the recent 2016 campaign.  However, regardless of their election-year rhetoric, the Republicans—now in control of all levers of government—have clear records, as measured by a “lifetime” of spending votes on Capitol Hill.  Some of these big-spending renegades are more notorious than others, and it just might take the Twitter-driven tactics of the new sheriff to rope them in.

Otherwise, there might be a legislative shootout at the D.C. corral.  Hopefully, the townfolk (i.e., the taxpayers) will see the “white hats” prevail.  If so, CCAGW’s 2017 ratings should, like the markets, see a positive uptick.

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