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Issue Brief

House Committee Leadership in the 112th Congress: Back in Black?
NTUF Issue Brief: #162

December 6, 2010
By Demian Brady

     When the Democrats took majority control of the House of Representatives, they promised a bold “new direction” that would be fiscally responsible. A few years later, the budget mess in Washington is as bad as ever, if not worse. The long-term outlook of the federal government is painted red with deficits as far as the eye can see. After November’s historic elections, will the new Republican majority be able to get the budget “back in black”? A comparison of the spending platforms of the outgoing Chairs and the potential incoming leaders indicates that major changes will be coming to the “workshops” of the House of Representatives: the Committees responsible for drafting legislation and setting the policy agenda in the 112th Congress. The recent fiscal records of the incoming Chairs indicate that taxpayers should see not just less spending coming to the House floor in the new Congress, but quite possibly attempts to rein in a budget wracked with deficits.

     This Issue Brief utilizes the National Taxpayers Union Foundation’s (NTUF) BillTally system to determine the dollar cost of the legislative agendas of the potential new Chairs in the next Congress. BillTally tabulates the cost or savings of every piece of spending legislation introduced in Congress and cross-indexes these figures with the sponsorship records of all Representatives and Senators. The “agenda cost” represents the annual change in federal spending that would occur if all the legislation sponsored or cosponsored by each Member were enacted into law. All dollar figures are based on the legislative agendas compiled from the opening of the 111th Congress through the late-summer recess of 2010. During that period, a total of 1,516 House bills having an impact of $1 million or more were introduced in Congress. Except where indicated, the likely Chairs for the 112th Congress were selected by each Member’s seniority on the Committee.

     Table 1 shows the different approaches to spending between the Chairs of the outgoing Democratic majority and the likely Chairs of the incoming Republican majority. Taken as a whole, one side backs legislation to expand the federal government, while the other side would trim it back. The outgoing Chairs sponsored an average of $804.9 billion in spending hikes, nearly 46 times the amount their likely replacements proposed. Collectively, this group of Democrats supported increases higher than the average Member of their party in the House ($537.3 billion). Even after factoring in a few offsetting spending cuts, the outgoing Chairs’ average annual net agenda ($803.2 billion) is roughly the size of the “stimulus” that passed into law early in the 111th Congress. Over ten years, the cumulative effect of this spending would far exceed the $3.7 trillion “cost” of extending the current tax rates for all income earners (accepting for just one moment the Washington establishment’s rhetoric that allowing people to keep more of their own money is a “cost”).

Table 1. Average Sponsorship Rates and Spending Agendas of Outgoing House Chairs and Potential Incoming Republican Chairs, by Party (dollar figures in billions)



Proposed Increases

# of Increase Bills

Proposed Decreases

# of Decrease Bills

Net Agenda

Outgoing Democratic Chairs






Potential Republican Chairs






Source for Agenda Totals: NTUF’s BillTally research program.  Dollar figures represent the annual change in federal spending that would occur if all the legislation sponsored or cosponsored by each Member were enacted into law.

     The individual matchups (see Table 2) highlight the different philosophies of these Members. All of the outgoing Chairs outspent their likely replacements. While many of the incoming majority have vowed to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ten outgoing Chairs (among 19 Committees NTUF examined) backed a plan that would make the government the “single payer” for health care. If this bill were to be enacted into law, it would massively dwarf the outlay cost of the overhaul that Congress passed this year.

     At least 12 (and possibly 13, depending on the outcome of the race for the Chair of Energy and Commerce) of the incoming leaders will have net agendas to reduce spending. The biggest “net cutter” is poised to head the Judiciary Committee: Lamar Smith (TX) backed legislation that would pare $123.1 billion from the budget. The expected Chair of the Armed Services Committee is also a net cutter. Many have called on Republicans make sure that defense programs are not excluded from cuts when the new Congress tackles budget problems next year. Howard “Buck” McKeon’s (CA) net agenda would reduce spending by nearly $86 billion; however, none of the items on the list of legislation he supports would cut defense spending. In fact, one of the bills he sponsored, H.R. 470, included a 1 percent across-the-board rescission in discretionary outlays, but only for nondefense spending.

     Although the average House Republican was a spending cutter through the first 20 months of this Congress (proposing a net of $48.1 billion in reductions), at least six and possibly seven of the new Chairs have agendas to increase outlays. Peter King (NY), set to take charge of the Homeland Security panel, would boost spending by $63.3 billion, the most among the incoming Chairs.

     There are three potential contests among Republicans for control of key Committees. Jerry Lewis (CA) is the current Ranking Member on Appropriations, but would require a waiver from GOP leaders to take the gavel in the next Session owing to term-limit rules. His net agenda would see spending rise by $10.6 billion. His challenger, Harold Rogers (KY), supports a net increase of $11.2 billion. Since the powerful Appropriations Chair gets to direct where authorized funds will go, it is not surprising that its Members are often not found among the ranks of aggressive spending cutters.  Lewis is one of two potential new Chairs who did not sponsor any savings bills through the late-summer recess of this Congress.[1] Two of Rogers’ savings bills are identical (to prevent Members of Congress from receiving their automatic pay raises), and his third, the “Travel Promotion Act” (H.R. 2935), would not actually cut spending. Rather, it would collect “offsetting receipts” (counted as negative outlays by the Congressional Budget Office) from the travel industry in order promote tourism.[2]

Table 2. Net Spending Agendas of Outgoing and Potential Incoming House Committee Chairs in the 111th Congress (dollar figures in billions)



Outgoing Democratic Chair

Net Spending Agenda

Potential Republican Chair

Net Spending Agenda


Collin Peterson (MN)


Frank Lucas (OK)



David Obey (WI)


Jerry Lewis (CA)*


Harold Rogers (KY)


Armed Services

Ike Skelton (MO)


Howard McKeon (CA)



John Spratt (SC)


Paul Ryan (WI)


Education & Labor

George Miller (CA)


Jon Kline (MN)


Energy & Commerce††

Henry Waxman (CA)


Joe Barton (TX)*


Fred Upton (MI)


Financial Services

Barney Frank (MA)


Spencer Bachus (AL)


Edward Royce (CA)


Foreign Affairs

Howard Berman (CA)


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL)


Homeland Security

Bennie Thompson (MS)


Peter King (NY)


House Administration

Robert Brady (PA)


Dan Lungren (CA)



John Conyers (MI)


Lamar Smith (TX)


Natural Resources

Nick Rahall, II (WV)


Doc Hastings (WA)


Oversight & Government Reform

Edolphus Towns (NY)


Darrel Issa (CA)



Louise Slaughter (NY)


David Dreier (CA)


Science & Technology

Bart Gordon (TN)


Ralph Hall (TX)


Small Business

Nydia Velázquez (NY)


Sam Graves (MO)


Transportation & Infrastructure

James Oberstar (MN)


John Mica (FL)


Veterans’ Affairs

Bob Filner (CA)


Cliff Stearns (FL)


Ways & Means

Sander Levin (MI)


David Camp (MI)



 *  Term-limited as Committee Chair under existing House Republican rules – will require waiver from party leadership to be eligible.

 †   Representative Jack Kingston (GA, with an agenda to cut spending by $110.8 billion), has also been mentioned for this Chair.            

 ††  Representatives John Shimkus (IL, with a net agenda to cut spending by $115.4 billion) and Cliff Stearns (FL), have also been mentioned as being interested in this Chair if Representative Barton is not granted a waiver.          

     The most heated contest is for the gavel of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Current Ranking Member Joe Barton (TX) would also need a waiver from Republican Party leaders to head the Committee in the next Congress. His net agenda would see the budget reduced by nearly $17 billion while his chief rival for the spot, Fred Upton (MI), is backing legislation to increase the budget by over $24 billion.

     The soon-to-be-former Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank (MA), has the largest net agenda among the outgoing leaders. The legislation he has supported through the three-fourths of the 111th Congress would send spending upward by almost $1.5 trillion. Two net cutters are competing for control of this gavel: Ranking Member Spencer Bachus (AL, with a net agenda to cut just over $107 billion), and his challenger Edward Royce (CA, who would slice nearly $79 billion from outlays).

     The recent legislative agendas of the potential new Chairs indicate that in the radically altered political landscape of the 112th Congress, the Republican-controlled House will take expenditures in yet another “new direction.” But in order to get the budget “back in black,” the leaders of the House will have to stay true to the small government principles of the Tea Party wave that helped propel them into power. They will also have to find areas of agreement with the Senate and the President. Whatever else happens in Washington next year, there will be a hard-fought struggle between those who believe that Washington has a spending problem and those who believe Washington has a revenue problem.

About the Author

Demian S. Brady is the Senior Policy Analyst for National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), the research and educational affiliate of the National Taxpayers Union.


[1] On November 15 – outside the scope of coverage of this study – Representative Lewis introduced H.R. 6403, the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Rescission Act,” which would rescind any unobligated funds from the 2009 “stimulus” package and return them to the U.S. Treasury. As of November 27, 2010, unobligated “stimulus” spending for contracts, grants, loans, and entitlements totaled $122.4 billion.{EB595CCA-D93F-48F4-AF96-11E2D41DE73D}&xsl=Charts/FundingOverviewChartTextView.xsl.

[2] Congressional Budget Office, Cost Estimate: S. 1023, Travel Promotion Act of 2009, June 9, 2009.