Tea Party freshmen get high-profile committee slots

If the assignment of House committee chairs provided a letdown to Tea Party activists, especially on Appropriations with Hal Rogers, the assignment of newly-open seats on critical committees looks more like a win.  Twenty-two freshmen Representatives have won seats on Appropriations, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Financial Services, and most of those won their elections with heavy Tea Party backing:

Most of the 22 House Republican freshmen-to-be selected to sit on much-coveted, A-list committees won their races with Tea Party backing.

The House Republican Steering Committee last week added the incoming members to the rosters of four powerful committees: Appropriations, Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Financial Services.

House Republicans believe they were swept into power on Nov. 2 by a powerful anti-Washington wave of voter frustration over the amount of federal spending and a stagnant job market.

Speaker-to-be John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his fellow GOP leaders and representatives on the House Steering Committee ensured that members of the largest GOP freshmen class in 70 years were given spots on influential panels.

The process of assigning seats is a spoils-dividing process for a new majority, one complicated by the fact that not every committee split between Democrats and Republicans has been finalized.  The process on the other side of the aisle will be decidedly less pleasant, although assisted by the large exodus of their members in the midterms.  The likely effect of both assignment processes will be to polarize the committees a little more as the GOP selects more conservatives while moderate Democrats have become even more of a rarity in the House.

Normally, freshmen don’t get the “plum” committee assignments, thanks to a seniority system that solidifies the power of existing leadership.  Republicans first started chipping away at that structure after the 1994 election by term-limiting committee chairs.  This is perhaps a cousin to that process, adding fresh blood and the Tea Party perspective on the most critical committees to domestic policy.  Interestingly, this impulse seems to have escaped assignments to Armed Services and Foreign Affairs, at least at the moment, perhaps an acknowledgment that Tea Party interests in both areas didn’t diverge from tradition Republican policy in those arenas.

One important committee should be watched: Rules.  That committee controls the bill-making process and will be chaired by David Dreier, a reliable conservative.  John Boehner has promised to open it up by having cameras installed for C-SPAN to televise committee proceedings and making the process transparent.  It would be nice to see some freshmen on this committee to make sure that accountability for process as well as result is achieved.

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