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The Star-Telegram: Despite numbers, Texas GOP may have little clout in House

January 10, 2011
Article

By Maria Recio

WASHINGTON -- Texas should be riding high in the Republican-led U.S. House, with 23 GOP members -- more than any other state -- and three Texans in Republican leadership roles.

But despite its strong GOP credentials, Texas' clout in the 112th Congress may not be as strong as might be expected because the state has only two House committee chairmanships -- Lamar Smith of San Antonio at the Judiciary Committee, and Ralph Hall of Rockwall at the Science and Technology Committee.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, lost a high-profile bid for chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and some Capitol insiders see that as a loss for Texas.

"Barton was not pleased," Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Austin, said of his failure to get a waiver on term limits. "That is a loss for the delegation. But we're rising up through the ranks. Texas has historically had a lot of strengths -- presidents and majority leader."

In recent years, Tom DeLay of Sugar Land and Dick Armey, a staunch supporter of Barton, served as House majority leader. And, of course, George W. Bush was president for eight years. His father, President George H.W. Bush was president from 1989 to 1993.

Yet California and Florida each have 19-member GOP delegations, and California has four committee chairmanships and Florida three.
And Michigan, with only nine GOP members, has three chairmanships, including the Ways and Means Committee.

Another setback for Texas was when Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Amarillo, lost the House Intelligence Committee chairmanship to Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.

McCaul, who will be chairman of the Homeland Security Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, was, like five of his Texas colleagues, including Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, elected after the mid-decade redistricting in 2004. As a result, they are still rising in seniority.

"I feel very optimistic that we're going to be well-positioned in the next Congress and the one after that," McCaul said.

In one big plus for North Texas, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, is now a so-called cardinal, one of the powerful subcommittee leaders on the House Appropriations Committee.

"I am honored to have been selected as chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations," Granger said in a statement. "My subcommittee assignments provide an extraordinary opportunity for me to help lead our nation's defense and foreign policy at a historic time while meeting the needs of my constituents in the 12th Congressional District. North Texas depends on global relationships, and the way Congress manages our role in the international community has great implications for families and businesses right here at home."

Meanwhile, Barton has been given a "chairman emeritus" position, which gives him a seat on all the subcommittees and the opportunity to shape policy.

"I plan to be a leader as Republicans make good on our promises to repeal Obamacare and replace it with common-sense, market-based reform, rein in federal spending, work toward a balanced budget, improve the economy and put Americans back to work," Barton said recently.

The GOP planned to move quickly to try to repeal the healthcare law, but a big vote scheduled for Wednesday has been delayed after Saturday's shootings in Arizona.

A likely Republican leader on healthcare is Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, a doctor who has been named vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce's health subcommittee.

"Things ebb and flow," Burgess said of Texas' fortunes -- he nonetheless described the Texas GOP delegation as "the biggest and the best" in Congress. "You can say the glass is half empty or half full," he said. "There's a lot to be done."

Burgess points to the Texas-heavy party leadership -- House GOP Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling of Dallas, House GOP Secretary John Carter of Round Rock, and National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Dallas -- as an important counterweight to the relatively few congressional chairmanships.

"A lot of direction in which the Congress goes is determined within the leadership table," Burgess said. "For one state to have that many people at the table is pretty good."

McCaul also said that having three people in leadership setting the agenda will help the state's influence.

On the Democratic side, Texas, with only nine House members, has new visibility with the elevation of Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo to leadership.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California appointed Cuellar and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida as vice chairmen for the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, giving Cuellar an influential spot.

"I think I'll be at the table when leadership is making decisions," said Cuellar, the state's only Blue Dog Democrat. "I'm going to try and do everything I can for members of the state of Texas."