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California Republicans ready for new power

Politics: With GOP control of House, several lawmakers can expect increase in responsibility

Posted: November 17, 2010 6:44 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2010 4:30 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Move over Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman and George Miller. Make way for Kevin McCarthy, Darrell Issa and Buck McKeon.

The three Republicans are among the California lawmakers expected to ascend to leadership positions when the GOP takes control of the House in January.

They lead a state GOP contingent with a high degree of seniority and driven by a strong desire to undo some of the top policy priorities of their Democratic predecessors, such as the health care overhaul pushed through last spring.

In all, there are 19 Republican lawmakers from California. Two races have yet to be officially declared, but it appears that number won’t change. Almost all the 19 have represented their districts for several terms and have gradually gained enough seniority to at least oversee a House subcommittee for the next two years, while McKeon and Issa are certain to oversee influential committees.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, of Redlands, also is a contender to get his old job back as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. The Republicans are elected from conservative pockets in one of the nation’s most liberal states.

California also is the home of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was re-elected to lead House Democrats when they become the minority party after suffering huge losses in the November elections. Californians also elected Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer to her fourth term in the U.S. Senate in convincing fashion.

Many in the California GOP delegation were around in 1994 when Republicans took control of Congress midway through former President Bill Clinton’s first term. Lewis won office to his 16th term. David Drier, who will oversee the House Rules Committee, won office to a 15th term.

Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, expects the group to confront Obama whenever it can but also to learn from the mid 1990s. In a span of two years, voters went from voting in a GOP Congress to voting in a second term for Clinton.

The highest-ranking member of the delegation will be among its least experienced.

McCarthy, 45, of Bakersfield, has rocketed through the Republican ranks in just two terms. He will serve as the GOP whip, a job that involves ensuring Republicans have enough support to pass legislation brought to the House floor and one that will place him just below the House’s speaker and majority leader within the GOP hierarchy.

McCarthy, who used to own his own deli, has made his mark recruiting GOP candidates to run for office and by helping craft the GOP’s “Pledge to America” — a 21-page document that describes GOP priorities for the coming two years. Those priorities involve no tax increases and undefined spending cuts, as well as a more specific promise: immediate action to repeal the Democratic-led health care overhaul.

Issa, from Vista in northern San Diego County, amassed a fortune when he sold his interest in a car-alarm company he started, California-based Directed Electronics. He used some of that money to help fund the 2003 recall campaign against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, which resulted in Arnold Schwarzenegger winning office.

“He’s going to be very aggressive in exercising the oversight function, to put it mildly,” Pitney said. “One thing is sure. Washington lawyers are going to be busy for the next couple of years representing officials called before his committee.”

McKeon, of Santa Clarita, is expected to oversee the House Armed Services Committee. He already has staked out key differences with the Obama administration on the war effort, calling it a mistake for Obama to pledge to begin withdrawing forces from Afghanistan in July 2011.

“It’s essential our commander in chief give our military the time and resources it needs to succeed,” McKeon said this week during a speech that laid out his priorities as the presumed chairman.

McKeon said he would fiercely defend the $700 billion defense budget, calling annual increases in overall spending of 1 percent plus inflation tantamount to a cut. He said savings can be found in the defense budget, but that money has to go back into building up other facets of the military.

“A defense budget in decline portends an America in decline,” McKeon said.

McKeon has been highly critical of the push to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” but his protests have been more focused on timing than the policy itself. He wants the Pentagon to complete its survey of the troops and their families, and for congressional hearings to be held on those surveys before any action is taken.



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