By Leslie Wollack
The new 113th Congress will bring changes in leadership on Congressional committees dealing with local issues. Although party leadership remains the same in both the House and Senate, retirements, elections and House and Senate Republican rules will force several key changes in committee leadership.
In the Senate, the Democrats gained two seats, resulting in a new party ratio of 55 Democrats to 45 Republicans (two Independents - Sanders (VT) and King (ME) will caucus with the Democrats).
With the retirement of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) will become the new chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) continuing as Ranking Member.
In recent years, the committee has served as an example of bipartisanship, and Wyden and Murkowski, who will work closely and shaping the future of America's energy policy and economy, say they would like to continue the productive relationship in the next Congress. The pair has demonstrated broad areas of agreement, including support for energy policy to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
While the prospects for passage of comprehensive energy reform are slim in a divided Congress, Wyden and Murkowski see opportunities for smaller pieces of energy legislation, such as exploring a "revenue-sharing" plan, which would create incentives for states to produce energy-both fossil fuels and renewable power-on federal lands and waters, by allowing states and counties to enjoy a share of the revenues from energy companies.
Wyden has said he wants to change the conversation on energy policy to focus not only on energy production, but also on the cost of energy for producers and consumers. He believes the government should continue to fund research on renewable energy development and is interested in finding ways to increase oil and gas production from existing wells.
Despite the goodwill, the fact remains that even if Wyden and Murkowski could get legislation through their committee, prospects for reaching a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, let alone passing legislation through the House, are bleak.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will see a major change with Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) replacing Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Vitter was one of the four members of the Committee instrumental in negotiating the bipartisan agreement on MAP-21, the recently passed transportation authorization legislation. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) will take over as Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD) will become the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has responsibility for rail, aviation, freight and safety issues. Thune replaces Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who recently announced he will leave the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
In the House, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) has been named Chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure Services Committee and last week named 10 new Republican members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: Reps. Steve Daines (R-MT); Rodney Davis (R-IL); Thomas Massie (R-KY); Mark Meadows (R-NC); Markwayne Mullin (R-OK); Scott Perry (R-PA); Trey Radel (R-FL); Tom Rice (R-SC); Daniel Webster (R-FL); and Roger Williams (R-TX).
The new chairman will replace current chair Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who is term-limited by Republican House rules. Rep. Shuster said in a briefing for reporters that he sees transportation funding as a major priority for his first months as committee leader, including solutions such as moving to a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, which charges drivers by the miles they drive rather than the gas they purchase.
Shuster also said he will seek "common ground" on Amtrak funding, a key issue for Mica, who has held several hearings in the last few weeks and has been highly critical of the national passenger rail corporation. Legislation authorizing Amtrak funding will expire next year.