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Follow the first year in Congress of Freshmen Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Jay Johnson (D-WI)
Kay Granger (R-TX) may be the busiest new member of Congress. Not only has she already landed a slot in the Republican leadership as an Assistant Majority Whip, but she is one of only seven House freshmen to have three committee assignments: Transportation and Infrastructure, Budget and House Oversight.
"Members have a mixture of goals when they seek committee assignments," said Christopher Deering, professor of political science at George Washington University and author of "Committees in Congress." "They seek committee assignments for prestige and power within the institution. They seek committee assignments to discuss policy issues they feel are affecting the country, and finally they seek committee assignments to help specific aspects of their constituency." Granger appears to be fulfilling all of these goals with her committees.
" The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee gives her the opportunity to continue in the role of booster for Fort Worth," Texas Christian University professor Jim Riddlesperger said.
And although the Budget Committee will not offer the same electoral advantages, it will place her on one of the most influential committees in Congress. The committee establishes the budgetary guidelines and goals for the entire Congress, of which other committees later implement.
"There are not direct benefits from the Budget Committee, but that is where the action is," Norman Ornstein, congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said.
The House Oversight Committee, which oversees the day-to-day functions of the House, is planning to deal with one of the major political issues of the 1996 elections and a tough challenge facing the 105th Congress: reform of the campaign finance system.
Kay Granger started her campaign to be on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee even before she had been elected to Congress.
"I remember during the campaign she held an event in Johnson County where she had [Transportation Committee Chairman] Bud Shuster come to a rally and say he wanted to have her on the committee," Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), who served on the Republican Steering Committee that assigned freshmen to their committees, said. "So she was campaigning even before the election to get that committee."
When she was forced to prioritize her committee choices, Transportation topped her list.
"Transportation will be an extremely important committee for me," Granger said from her office in Fort Worth. "We are re-authorizing ISTEA (see Transportation background) this session and we are looking for support of the NAFTA Superhighway, Interstate 35. Plus with Alliance Airport, American Airlines and Burlington Northern all based in Fort Worth, this assignment will be all the more important."
Both Fort Worth officials and corporate representatives are already busy preparing to lobby Granger on an array of transportation issues.
"We have been working on a list of regional issues that we hope we will be able to work with Representative Granger on," said Fort Worth Assistant City Manager Mike Groomer. "We are extremely excited about having her on the Transportation Committee. I think it is good news for Fort Worth, for Texas and for the entire region."
Thomas Mann, director of the Government Studies Program at the Brookings Institute, is not surprised that the Republican leadership appointed Granger to her top committee.
"Party leaders want these new members [re-elected] and so they are more then happy to work to get their member seats on committees that will help in that effort," Mann said. "We see this desire to serve new members in the Transportation Committee where there are 14 to 16 freshmen members on the committee."
Granger obtained the Transportation assignment during the orientation week in late November.
"People told me to focus on my first choice, but I went for both [Transportation and Infrastructure and National Security] equally," Granger said. "I had put together a booklet to discuss why I wanted these two committees, how it would help my district and I distributed them to all the members of the steering Committee."
Rep. Barton said her lobbying persuaded many on the committee.
"Most members send a letter to the members of the steering committee, she produced this tome outlining all the reasons she should be on the committees she wanted," Barton said. "It didn't hurt her, but it was really the strength of her personal character and her willingness to get out and meet with all the members personally."
While Kay Granger was lobbying to get her committee assignments, she received an unexpected call.
"During our orientation week, John Kasich called me and asked me to serve on the Budget Committee. He said he was looking for people who had experience working on budgets," Granger recalled. "Budget is not always the most pleasant of duties, but I believe we need a government which lives within its means. Also to have the opportunity to work with Chairman Kasich . . . is something I am really looking forward to."
Bruce Cuthbertson, spokesman for John Kasich (R-OH), outlined why the Budget Chairman wanted Granger on his committee.
"He chose to contact her for three reasons," Cuthbertson said. "First, as the former Mayor of Fort Worth Texas, she had experience dealing with budgets. Second, she had an excellent understanding of the programs that we at the committee make decisions on. Finally, we had lost a female Representative this term and we wanted to make sure we had the same amount of female representation on the committee."
Others questioned the rationale.
"My guess is she is window dressing," Robert Reishauer, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said. "For John [Kasich], she represents a fiscal conservative who can give wonderful speeches like, ‘When I was mayor of Fort Worth, we lived within our means and now it is time for Washington do the same.'"
Granger had also been campaigning to be placed on the National Security Committee. Fort Worth is home to several major Defense Department contractors, including Bell Helicopter and Lockheed Martin.
"We had the votes to get her on the National Security Committee, but Kasich also wanted her on Budget," Barton said. "Normally the leadership does not allow a freshman to serve on three major committees, so she had to decide between the two."
Granger chose the Budget Committee. Local officials in Fort Worth say the decision not to sit on the defense panel will have less of an impact than it would have had five years ago.
"We are an area where defense was 80 percent of our economy, now it is about 30 percent," Assistant City Manager Groomer said. "Kay doesn't have to fight for the F-16 like [former Fort Worth Congressman] Pete Geren did."
Now that she is on the Budget Committee, she will examine and vote on the budget resolution introduced by the President. During the last Congress, the Budget Committee, and Chairman Kasich, were at the center of the balanced budget fight. Granger, who has carefully cultivated an image as a bipartisan moderate, will now join one of the most partisan committees in Congress. But observers say this Congress may not be as extreme as the last.
"In the 104th, it would have been impossible not to be intensely partisan on the Budget Committee," Mann said. "This term it might be quite possible for the moderates of both parties to feel comfortable to negotiate with each other and not worry about being considered traitors to their party."
Although the Budget Committee will begin its work after the President introduces his budget on February 6, most experts say Granger will spend her first year on the panel learning the unique world of Congressional budgeting.
"There is no way a new member of the Budget Committee can possibly understand the budget process," Reischauer, who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said. "It is so complex that it takes at least a year or two learn the language of the debate and often to unlearn the way most budgets are formed. The role of a freshman on the Budget Committee is to essentially stand and cheer at the right time."
When Granger was sworn in as the first Republican woman ever to represent Texas in the House, she had been assigned two committees, Transportation and Infrastructure and Budget. In the first week, the leadership approached her again to serve on one more panel, the House Oversight Committee.
The House Oversight Committee is a "Second Tier" panel. The informal rules of the House say that Freshmen can serve on only two major committees, so Granger's selection to the board did not upset any of the rules of the Republican party.
According to its jurisdiction, "The Committee oversees the operation and finances of the House, has jurisdiction over federal election law and election matters, and oversees the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution and the Federal Elections Commission."
Although the committee deals mostly with the administrative functions and support agencies of the House, this session the committee may also address the contentious issue of campaign finance reform and oversight of the Federal Elections Commission.
Last Congress, the leadership of the Republican party shaped the legislative agenda for the House of Representatives. Experts are saying this Congress committees will likely re-assert their authority over what bills make it through the chamber.
"During the 104th Congress, committees were at their ebb of power in this century," Deering said. "Republicans thought they had a mandate and forced committees to rubber-stamp a lot of legislation. They even hand-picked the leaders of several influential committees. In the 105th, the leadership has backed away from a lot of their demands on committees and have decided to let them do their work."
Kay Granger, due to her three committee assignments, will most likely make her voice heard on issues ranging from a balanced Federal budget to campaign finance reform to ISTEA.