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The handyman putting the GOP's plan in action

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) during a GOP transition meeting Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) during a GOP transition meeting Wednesday on Capitol Hill. (Melina Mara)

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By Philip Rucker
Monday, November 15, 2010

In BoehnerLand, the constellation of loyalists and associates surrounding the soon-to-be House speaker, Rep. Greg Walden has become the get-it-done guy.

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A former radio station owner from the high desert plateau of eastern Oregon, the six-term Republican tackles every thankless task assigned by House Minority Leader John A. Boehner with the precision that he learned as an Eagle Scout.

Walden's latest assignment: to oversee his party's transition to the majority - and to somehow translate its campaign promises to reform the way Congress works into a practical rule book that, well, reforms the way Congress works.

This is no sexy task. And it will not culminate in a landmark bill that bears Walden's name. This is a matter of floor-vote calendars and committee hearing schedules. Should Congress stream live witness testimony and committee deliberations? Keep printing 200 copies of each amendment? Slash the money spent on the Capitol's underground subway or guards or cafeteria cooks - or all of the above?

"We often get hamstrung about what the existing structure is," Walden, 53, said in an interview. " 'Well, we can't do that, because we have a rule.' Um, guys, we write the rules. Think outside the box. If you were designing this institution starting today, how would you design it? What works? What doesn't? And how would you do it better?"

These are the weighty concerns that have consumed Walden's life since the Nov. 2 elections. If Boehner (Ohio) is installed as House speaker as expected on Jan. 5, his regime will assume control not only of the rules that govern the House but also the shared responsibility with the Democrat-controlled Senate of the vast operations of the Capitol complex.

It falls to Walden's 22-member transition committee to determine what will change - and quickly, since the new rules would go into effect in January. Last week, Walden led days of meetings, seeking ways to trim the size and expense of a bureaucracy that many Republicans derided on the campaign trail as bloated.

The committee members also want to bring more transparency to House operations. What particularly rankled them, and many U.S. voters, was how the Democratic majority pushed the health-care overhaul through last spring.

Walden is hardly considered a partisan bomb-thrower, but he is a reliable conservative, and he acknowledged that he grew agitated during that debate.

"That really put me over the top," Walden said.

In March, he and a handful of Republican colleagues stood over the Capitol balcony holding up signs that spelled "K-I-L-L T-H-E B-I-L-L," stoking a tea party protest.

Republican leaders say that no other lawmaker is better suited than Walden to make the necessary changes.

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