Insights From A Former Senior Republican Aide

Mark Anderson is a Senior Advisor with Kelley Drye & Warren LLP. He is also a former Congressional leadership aide, who worked for 12 years on Capitol Hill for four members of Congress - including Representative Roy Blunt, the Senator-elect from the State of Missouri. During his time as Senior Policy Advisor for Representative Blunt, the Majority Whip at the time, Mark worked closely with prospective Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was Chief Deputy Whip at the time. Additionally, Mark has worked for Representative Darrell Issa, who is discussed as becoming the next Chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and Congressman Lee Terry, who is Dean of the Nebraska delegation and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Editor: Mark, now that the 2010 midterm elections are over, what is your assessment of the political landscape?

In several ways, this was an historic election. Republican gains of the magnitude experienced yesterday are at the very high end of midterm gains by the party not holding the presidency. An interesting parallel may be drawn to the election of 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt was first elected President. Although not a midterm election, in 1932, the Democrats picked up 97 House seats, capturing many seats in the South, Midwest, and Great Plains. The same election also saw many state houses and governorships change to Democratic control, in a time, like today, of housing foreclosures, tough economic conditions, high unemployment, and disenchantment with Hoover Administration economic recovery efforts. Additionally, the political landscape has taken on another historic significance - one party now controls the House of Representatives and the Senate is controlled by another party. Rarely does one chamber change control and not the other.

One significant change that I expect to see with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, is a move towards transparency with consensus legislation—using the more public conference committee process for consensus-building on a bill that both houses of Congress have passed before a final product is sent to the President. Republicans believe the Democratic leadership has removed inter-chamber legislative reconciliation processes from the traditional conference process.

However, before a bill can go to conference, it must be developed in the committee of jurisdiction. Should Congressman Boehner become the Speaker of the House, he will be the first Speaker to have chaired a committee (Education and Labor) since former Speaker Tom Foley (Agriculture). He could also become the first Republican Speaker to have run a committee since former Speaker Joe Cannon, who was Speaker from 1903 to 1911. Congressman Boehner has pledged to return power to the Committee Chairmen so that they can let the members become a part of the legislative process. His goal is to, "open this place up and let some air in." I interpret that to mean that the plans to allow the committees more latitude to draft legislation with less direct leadership control.

Ultimately, the process of getting a bill passed will become much more important as conferencing between both Houses of Congress becomes more visible. Consensus will be the name of the game when it comes to writing the laws for the next two years, with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives and the Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate.

Editor: Ok, it is now November 3rd, what is going to happen in the coming weeks?

Now the process of changing who "operates the House of Representatives" begins. What I mean is that both the Democrats and the Republicans will elect their new leadership during the week of November 15th. At the same time, Freshman orientation takes place that week, while the House conducts its work. These new members-elect, many who have not been to Washington, D.C., before, will be involved in seminars, organizational meetings, and nightly events, all while trying to hire new staff. At the same time, committee Ranking Members will begin to solidify their positions as the incoming chairmen, and look to interview thousands of individuals for their staffs, in preparation for their new roles. Talk about chaos!

Republican leadership will also be reconfiguring the Steering Committee (those members who will determine who will be nominated as their new chairmen and which committees members will serve on), so that members who want to be chairmen can campaign before the Steering Committee, in the hopes of being placed onto the "slate" for consideration before the entire Republican Conference. This should take place by November 19th.

Finally, you will have congressional offices switching locations throughout the Capitol, as well as the three House Office Buildings. If you have never seen it, you have to go up and take a look. It is a sight. Most of the 435 members will be moving offices between November 22nd to just before Christmas. At the same time, the new Majority will be fighting for office space within the Capitol proper. I remember what happened in 2003, when I went to work for Senator-elect Blunt. It was both fun and fascinating.

Regardless, there will not be a lot of time to focus on legislation and other priorities, during this 60 day process. The government will need to be funded into 2011. Outside of that, I doubt there is enough time for other legislation during this transition period.

Editor: Some are saying that with a split Congress, nothing will get done. Do you agree?

Most believe that gridlock is the order of the day. Call me optimistic, but I believe some important pieces of legislation will be signed into law during the 112th Congress. Both Republicans and Democrats have strong incentives to pass legislation. One factor for the Democrats will be the 2012 presidential election. The President will want a strong platform for his re-election campaign, including recent examples of his party's legislative accomplishments. Republicans, for their part, will have an incentive to pass legislation that demonstrates meaningful change and leadership—and they will want to move quickly. Therefore, with Democrats seeking to build a platform for 2012, as well as perhaps generally wanting to shift public favor back in their direction, and Republicans wanting to make swift changes that underscore why they were elected into office, there is little chance that new legislation won't be passed—everyone will want to take credit and demonstrate that Congress is working for America.

Editor: From your time as a senior policy advisor to Republican leadership, what can you tell us about the new House leadership's mindset and agenda for the initial six months of the 112th Congress?

Republican leadership will definitely have policy priorities in mind. However, many new Republican representatives have expressed a wide range of views during their campaigns. Quite possibly, Republican leadership will thus need to identify common interests and work towards compromise, even within the Republican Conference. The freshman members, who were swept in on November 2nd, have something to prove to those who took a chance and elected them. The more senior members will be in charge of running the House and will need to balance practicality with emotion.

With that said, there is no doubt that the Republican majority will be focusing a lot of effort on oversight, spending, taxes, health care and energy. As I mentioned earlier, Republican leadership is now consumed with the logistics of transitioning from minority to majority status—a huge undertaking, not to be underestimated. Once the operational details of the transition are worked out and the 112th Congress officially begins in early January, I'm sure we will see leadership taking swift action towards legislative policy priorities. While there will certainly be some disagreement within the Republican Conference about where to begin, it is ultimately Leadership that will determine which bills come to the floor for a vote and which bills will need to be "whipped" in order to make sure they will pass.

Editor: You worked for Representative Darrell Issa, the in-coming Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Committee. What can you tell us about his priorities and what, if any, industries do you anticipate potentially facing increased scrutiny from Oversight?

I believe that Representative Issa is strongly committed to the role of oversight within the balance of power. In September 2010, Representative Issa released a report entitled "A Constitutional Obligation: Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch."1 In short, the report describes his current view of the responsibilities of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Representative Issa's report also recounts the recent history of the Committee under Democratic control and highlights those areas—ranging from the policies of the Obama Administration to the activities of corporations and other organizations—that, in Representative Issa's view, warrant closer scrutiny.

In large part, Representative Issa will likely seek to examine the size and scope of the federal government as well as a broad range of specific policies adopted during the 111th Congress. Representative Issa has also indicated that his focus will extend beyond the Obama Administration and into the private sector. In particular, I believe that the energy, healthcare, food and agriculture, and banking and financial services industries may receive the greatest amount of oversight scrutiny during the first year.

Editor: Can you tell us more about your legislative and policy areas of expertise? How do you see these areas fitting in the overall legislative agenda for the 112th Congress?

When I came to Washington in 1995, I began my career focusing on oil & natural gas, electricity, environment, agriculture, transportation, and telecommunications issues. After joining Kelley Drye, I have been able to continue to work in these areas, which have remained on the front burner via energy bills, climate change bills, transportation reauthorization bills, and farm bill reauthorizations. There is no doubt that in the 112th Congress, all of these issues will continue to be a priority.