By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 3, 2011; 8:41 PM
They say everything is bigger in Texas, but is the state's clout in Congress actually getting smaller?
A decade ago, the 107th Congress was sworn into office with two Texans - Richard K. Armey and Tom DeLay - occupying the No. 2 and No. 3 House GOP leadership positions, making the state the clear heavyweight in the chamber.
On Wednesday, the 112th Congress will begin with two Texans in the House leadership, but on lower rungs. Rep. Jeb Hensarling will be Republican Conference chairman, and Rep. Pete Sessions will chair the National Republican Congressional Committee.
On the committee front, two Texas Republicans lost bids last month for House panel chairmanships to lawmakers from Michigan: Rep. Fred Upton bested Rep. Joe L. Barton for the gavel of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Mike Rogers edged out Rep. William M. "Mac" Thornberry to head the Intelligence Committee.
Texas will hold two chairmanships this year - of the Judiciary and the Science and Technology panels - but California and Alabama also hold two apiece, and their committees are arguably more desirable than Texas's. Michigan and Florida lead the way, with three full committee gavels each.
All this is despite the fact that, with 23 members, Texas's Republican delegation continues to be the biggest in the House. (California and Florida are next with 19 Republicans apiece.) So, what's the matter with Texas?
Calvin Jillson, a political science professor and expert on Texas politics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said the state's decline in Congress has been a long process.
"If you look back over the last century, Texas's clout is at a low point, even if it has come back a bit the last couple of election cycles," Jillson said.
The state has provided three of the last 14 House speakers and used to dominate the ranks of committee chairmen. But Texas has lately been the victim of two factors: term limits and turnover.
Barton failed to keep hold of the Energy and Commerce Committee largely because he couldn't persuade GOP leaders to waive a six-year term limit for top panel Republicans. (Another Texan, Bill Archer, had to surrender the coveted Ways and Means Committee gavel a decade ago for the same reason.)
More important, seniority still plays a major role in chairmanship decisions. Many Texas lawmakers are relatively junior: Fourteen of the state's 23 House Republicans have been elected since 2002, in many cases replacing senior Democrats who held powerful positions in their party.
On the brighter side for Texas, both of the state's senators hold influential posts: John Cornyn stays atop the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Kay Bailey Hutchison is the ranking Republican on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
And the state's House delegation is about to get - you guessed it - bigger, since the 2010 Census results mean that Texas will gain four House seats.Block that resolution!
Speaking of states, while most strive to be first, in one respect Wisconsin appears to have the honor of being last.
On Dec. 17, the House approved by voice vote a resolution commending the University of Wisconsin football team "for an outstanding season and 2011 Rose Bowl bid." (Future schoolchildren will surely memorize the bill's opening stanza: "Whereas the Wisconsin Badgers completed a dominant regular season, winning the Big Ten Title . . .â??"
The measure was a typical one; the House congratulated dozens of sports teams for all manner of achievements in the 111th Congress, as it has for many years.
But America's voters announced in November they were fed up and swept Republicans into power in the House. Though it's theoretically possible that had something to do with the economy or health care, not sports resolutions, the new House majority has vowed to get out of that game, making Wisconsin the last honoree of a sports resolution unless the policy is reversed.
Specifically, Republicans plan to pass a rule this week banning from the House floor any bill that "expresses appreciation, commends, congratulates, celebrates, recognizes the accomplishments of, or celebrates the anniversary of, an entity, event, group, individual, institution, team or government program; or acknowledges or recognizes a period of time for such purposes."
So even though the House congratulated Wisconsin for making the Rose Bowl, Texas Christian University won't get commended for winning the contest. And while the chamber congratulated Auburn quarterback Cam Newton on Dec. 15 for securing the Heisman Trophy - the last resolution to honor an individual athlete - neither Auburn nor Oregon will get a congressional fist bump for winning next week's national championship game.
But all is not lost for the winners. Brad Dayspring, spokesman for incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), notes that "if a member wants to honor a winning team, they can do it in other ways, such as a floor speech, statement for the record or a delegation letter."