Jockeying Begins For Next Committee Chair

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Even though the selection process is more than a year away, backroom skirmishing has already begun to succeed Ohio Republican Michael Oxley as the next chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, as Oxley has announced his retirement after 13 terms.

The frontrunners are ostensibly the chairmen of the Financial Services' subcommittees on Financial Institutions; Capital Markets, Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises; Domestic and International Monetary Policy; Housing and Community Opportunity; and Oversight and Investigations.

Some of the House members who head those committees are seen as long shots, even though the actual choice to succeed Oxley won't occur until early 2007, when the 110th Congress organizes. But whoever is selected to head the committee will yield significant influence over perhaps the most important committee for credit unions in Congress.

Because the Republicans are widely expected to retain control of the House in the next Congress, the next chairman will be a leading player in GOP politics. That's because when the Republicans took over the House in 1994 they changed the criteria for ascending to chairman of a committee. Under the old system, the longest-serving member on a committee almost always gained the chairman's gavel. The new system rewards party operatives as much as seniority.

Former Rep. Marge Roukema, the New Jersey Republican who had served longest on what was then known as the House Banking Committee, will attest to that. Roukema was passed over by leadership when the committee was reorganized as the Financial Services Committee and Oxley was handed the gavel, even though Roukema had served on the committee for 22 years. The consensus was that Oxley was selected the chairman by GOP leaders based on his fundraising prowess and help in getting other Republicans elected to the House.

Among the current subcommittee chairmen, the three candidates seen as most likely to head the full committee are Richard Baker of Louisiana, who heads the panel on GSEs and who has led legislative efforts to create a new regulatory framework over the secondary mortgage market; Spencer Bachus of Alabama, who heads the financial institutions subcommittee with jurisdiction over credit unions and banks; and Robert Ney of Ohio, who chairs the housing panel.

But Ney's chances have been hurt recently by his involvement in the growing scandal over Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has been reported to have provided Ney with various benefits, including overseas golfing trips.

That leaves Baker and Bachus as the two most likely candidates. Baker is seen by many as having the stature to chair the important congressional committee, especially because of his role in the GSE legislation, and now as one of the leaders in the relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina. But one industry lobbyist suggested that Baker's personality does not wear well with some of his colleagues and may hamper him when the House leadership gathers just before the next Congress. Baker has a strong relationship with credit unions but has not been a leader on credit union issues.

That leaves Bachus. Because he was one of only six House members to vote against HR 1151, the 1998 CU Membership Access Act, many in the credit union movement were worried when Bachus was appointed to head the financial institutions subcommittee. But most Capitol Hill observers agree that Bachus has grown into his job as subcommittee chair and he has been a real help to credit unions. Among other things, Bachus was chief sponsor of the credit union net worth bill, aimed at turning back new accounting rules seen hampering credit union mergers. He has publicly advocated regulatory relief efforts for credit unions and also worked hard at hearings and legislative drafting sessions to give credit unions a fair shake, criticizing the bankers' anti-credit union positions.

The game is still in the early innings. The fruits of the 110th Congress will be handed out based on what each candidate has done to help maintain the Republican majority. The proof will be in the fundraising.

Each of the candidates runs a so-called leadership PAC that collects contributions from interested parties, like credit unions, and in turn, makes contributions to favored candidates. Drier's American Success PAC, Baker's Back America's Conservatives PAC, and Bachus' Growth and Prosperity PAC, will all give out hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates in next year's mid-term elections, building up good will for the ensuing selection process. Credit unions, through CUNA's PAC, have given generously to each of these leadership PACs. Bachus, as one credit union lobbyist pointed out, has also built up a well of goodwill within the Republican Party by raising a record amount of funds as chairman of the President's Dinner earlier this year.

A dark horse for the Financial Services chair, according to one industry lobbyist, is David Drier of California, currently chairman of the House Rules Committee and a former member of the House Banking Committee. Drier, now in his 13th term, is one of the GOP's House top leaders and was briefly considered as a stand-in for Majority Leader Tom DeLay when DeLay was forced to relinquish his leadership role after being indicted in Texas on money laundering and conspiracy charges. The conspiracy charges have since been dropped.

Washington Bureau Chief Ed Roberts can be reached at eroberts

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