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GOP wins mean big change in focus for powerful Hill committees

By Lori Montgomery and Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 11:39 AM

Riding a tide of voter outrage over government spending and federal deficits, the Republicans who will take over the House of Representatives in January are vowing to reshape the federal budget and the nation's approach to economic policy.

In addition to repealing President Obama's health-care law, rewriting his Wall Street reforms and blocking scheduled tax hikes for the wealthy, Republicans say they will balance the budget and wipe out a deficit that approached $1.3 trillion last year.

Obama, too, says he is committed to deficit reduction, but it is not clear whether the White House can find common ground with the resurgent Republicans, especially as both parties head into the 2012 presidential campaign.

The first test of this relationship will come later this month, when lawmakers return to Washington for a lame-duck legislative session dedicated to taxes and spending.

In the meantime, here is a look at the key players on economic issues and the positions they are poised to claim in a GOP-controlled House:

* Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), likely next chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Ryan, 40, is one of the leading intellectual lights of the national Republican Party, recognized by Obama and congressional Democrats as a serious thinker on the budget and economic issues. His Roadmap for America's Future, a plan to wipe out deficits that was first unveiled in 2008, includes the most explicit ideas offered by any sitting lawmaker for solving the nation's budget woes.

The Roadmap proposes broad-based tax reform with lower rates on income and a shift toward taxing consumption; lower Social Security benefits for wealthy retirees and a shift toward private accounts; and the replacement of Medicare and Medicaid with vouchers and state block grants.

Democrats have hammered the Roadmap, arguing that it would abandon the elderly without balancing the budget, and few Republicans have publicly endorsed its controversial provisions. But budget experts in both parties say elements of Ryan's plan are likely to be required in any serious deficit-reduction effort, and Ryan is in a position to advance his ideas as a member of Obama's deficit commission, which is expected to issue a report Dec. 1.

Ryan would take the lead in proposing cuts to the nation's more than $3 trillion budget and would shape the Republican vision for a smaller federal government when the House attempts to adopt a budget resolution early next year. He would replace Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (D-S.C.), the current House budget chairman, who lost his reelection bid.

*Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), likely next chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Camp, 57, is a low-key but influential insider who has quietly climbed the ranks of the Republican Party since he was first elected from his central Michigan district in 1990. An ardent advocate of free trade, lower taxes and repealing Obama's health-care law, Camp's ascension to the chairmanship of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee would give him wide dominion over a range of key economic issues.

Last year, Camp took a leading role in drafting the Republican alternative to "Obamacare." The GOP plan called for limits on malpractice awards to protect doctors from lawsuits and more limited regulation of health insurance companies, which would have been permitted to sell policies across state lines. Though he has backed new protections for patients with pre-existing conditions, Camp has led GOP criticism of the Democratic law's mandate on every individual to obtain health coverage.

On taxes, Camp shares Obama's enthusiasm for lowering the corporate tax rate, which at 35 percent is one of the highest in the industrial world and is widely viewed as an impediment to domestic job creation. But he has vigorously opposed any effort to end the broad individual tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration. And Camp wrote a proposal for additional tax cuts that was included in the GOP campaign document, "A Pledge to America." The proposal would permit small business to deduct 20 percent of their income in an effort to spur hiring.

Camp has a reputation as an effective dealmaker who played a leading role in crafting the welfare reform plan signed by then-president Bill Clinton in 1996. He would be replacing his Michigan colleague, Rep. Sander M. Levin (D), who took over Ways and Means earlier this year in the wake of an ethics scandal surrounding Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).

*Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), likely next chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

Bachus is in line to seize control from current chairman Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) Bachus and his fellow GOP members railed against the massive financial overhaul bill that Frank forced through the committee last year despite Republican opposition. They argued that the legislation amounted to an unnecessary expansion of government bureaucracy, that it failed to eliminate the problem of "too big to fail" financial firms and that it would constrict access to credit and hamper job growth.

Under Bachus, Republicans likely would use the Financial Services Committee to cast a wary eye on federal regulators that gained vast new authorities under the legislation - particularly the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau - in an effort to make sure the committee does not write rules that are too restrictive on the financial industry.

As much as they might like to rein in or roll back portions of the so-called Dodd-Frank bill, however, major revisions appear unlikely. Despite the large House majority Republicans will enjoy, Democrats almost certainly would block any sweeping efforts to alter the bill in the divided Senate, and Obama also could wield his veto power.

"Top Republicans in Congress are now beating the drum to repeal all of these reforms and consumer protections," Obama said in his weekly address on Oct. 23. "I think that would be a terrible mistake."

A spokeswoman for Bachus said in a recent e-mail that his priorities are overhauling government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, "oversight and investigations, and review of job killing provisions in [the] Dodd-Frank legislation."

* Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), likely next chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Almost daily, the California Republican has needled the administration with claims that it has not been transparent enough with the American public. He has vowed to raise the profile of the oversight committee and be an aggressive government watchdog.

Issa already has plans to investigate the administration's handling of several major undertakings, including the BP oil disaster, the health-care reform legislation and the bailouts of Wall Street, which were initiated under President George W. Bush.

Issa offered a glimpse of how he would run the powerful committee in a paper released in September, in which he vowed to expand and strengthen the committee's role in overseeing everything from stimulus spending to food safety.

"Today, at a time of unprecedented expenditures and growth in the federal workforce and its presence in Americans' lives, with all the potential for fraud, waste, and abuse such growth carries with it," Issa wrote, "the Democratic-controlled Congress has consciously abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the Executive Branch."

montgomeryl@washpost.com dennisb@washpost.com

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