In a move at odds with a Republican transition into control of the House of Representatives that has left many on the right smiling, GOP leaders Tuesday paved the way for three moderates to head crucial committee slots over their more conservative challengers.
The Republican Steering Committee backed Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan to head the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky to head the Appropriations Committee and Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama to head the Financial Services Committee.
Each of the three new chairmen-to-be has come under fire from conservatives hoping GOP leaders would pick their more conservative rivals.
Upton, 57, faced revolt from the Tea Party group FreedomWorks for a long record “full of votes for more regulation, more spending, and more taxes.”
Though he spent the past month sprinting to the right, Upton has for years often found himself among a small minority of Republicans siding with Democrats on key votes.
Rogers, 72, is a longtime champion of earmarks who just this past August was dubbed “Porker of the Month” by the group Citizens Against Government Waste for “sponsoring legislation that could give federal funding to his daughter’s nonprofit organization, which promotes overseas wildlife protection for cheetahs.”
Bachus, 62, negotiated the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailouts with Democrats on behalf House Republicans, but lost the confidence of many conservative members in the process. He was one of 59 Republicans who voted for President Obama’s “cash for clunkers” program which paid individuals to destroy their used cars and buy new ones instead.
By picking Bachus, the Steering Committee put itself at odds with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who blasted Bachus’s “bigger government agenda” in an exclusive statement to The Daily Caller.
GOP sources said Palin’s call galvanized conservatives on the race but angered some insiders who resented her interfering in the matter.
The picks jar what has in many other ways been a conservative ascendancy in the House.
For instance, incoming Speaker John Boehner backed anti-earmark crusader Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona Monday for a slot on the powerful appropriations panel only three years after he punished the right wing rebel for insubordination.
“He’s listening. He gets it,” Leslie Page, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Government Waste, said about Boehner before the committee picks had been announced.
Republicans “are determined not to blow it,” said famed political handicapper Charlie Cook in his weekly column, “the leaders seem to know that they scored an unearned run in this election and that they have been given an opportunity that they probably didn’t deserve.”
Though the committee picks are unlikely to poison relations between GOP leaders and conservative activists, it will surely raise conservatives’ suspicions about the long-term trajectory of the party.
Many on the right privately express fear Republicans will drift from their campaign promises, especially as the large class of freshmen become accustomed to Washington’s ways.
The committees Upton, Rogers and Bachus will head are particularly important because they will form the front lines of the GOP’s fight against the Obama administration’s agenda.
Upton, in chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee, will preside over health care issues. Right wing activists are pushing for repeal of the president’s health care law and may be disappointed in lesser steps.
Rogers will preside over spending issues, which are at the very heart of the Tea Party enthusiasm that played a key role in the huge GOP victories on Election Day.
Bachus will preside over Obama’s far-reaching financial reform legislation as it is implemented and oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.