Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., goes before the House Republican Steering Commitee today to discuss the chairmanship of the House Natural Resources committee, which he is widely expected to assume in January. The Steering Committee, which consists of top House GOP leaders, regional representatives of the caucus (including Hastings himself), and a handful of freshmen, will vote on committee chairmen after hearing pitches from the candidates.
Despite the fact that Hastings' new chairmanship is a sure thing, this will not be a routine presentation. Hastings wants to convince the House GOP leadership to expand his committee's portfolio to include energy. The change would come at the expense of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
On the Hill, people consider Hastings' plan unlikely to gain approval. Yet there are strong arguments in its favor, among them the fact that it brings the House committee structure more into line with that of the Senate. What's more, it could represent an ideological opportunity for conservatives, as well as a compromise to defuse the nasty fight that has developed over the Energy and Commerce chairmanship.
Hastings argues that E & C's portfolio is truly massive right now and could use some pruning. It gave Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., jurisdiction over both Cap and Trade and Obamacare, placing the most liberal of liberal members at the nexus of House policymaking. But if the energy part of E&C is handed over to Natural Resources, then environmentalists' sway over energy issues in the House could evaporate. Just imagine the difference of having Hastings and pro-coal Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. (the current chairman and likely ranking member) presiding over energy issues.
On the Republican side, the turbulence at Energy and Commerce should help Hastings' cause at least a bit. First of alll, there's the leadership fight. Many conservatives distrust moderate Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., one of the leading candidates for chairman. (He makes his pitch to the steering committee tomorrow.) His chief rival for the position, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex., will probably be ruled ineligible to serve again as chairman, in which case Reps. John Shimkus, Ill., and Cliff Stearns, Fla. will be candidates.
Then there's the power vacuum. Five senior Republicans on the committee and one junior member are either gone already (Nathan Deal) or will not be returning (John Shadegg, Roy Blunt, George Radanovich, Steve Buyer, and Parker Griffith). Only a limited number of senior Republicans are still there to jockey for subcommittee chairmanships, and that means fewer powerful voices to defend the committee's power. Only two Energy and Commerce Republicans — Shimkus and Rep. Mike Rogers, R— serve on the Steering Committee.
The Hastings plan, as unlikely as it is, may never get a better shot than it will now. It could also provide a way out if the GOP leadership is determined to give Upton a gavel but sensitive to what conservatives will say. (Upton, of course, strongly opposes the plan.) The Right might feel better about an Upton chairmanship if it comes with a smaller scope.