115th Congress: A New Sheriff (with a Powerful Posse) Has Arrived
By William M. Christian
January 2017 WasteWatcher
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.
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.