Tuesday’s elections, which swept Republicans into power in the House of Representatives (with a gain of at least 60 seats), will bring many changes to the makeup and the leadership of the defense oversight committees. Two committee chairs and one subcommittee chair lost bids for reelection: Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), chair of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC); Rep. John Spratt (D-SC), chair of the House Budget Committee (HBC); and Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX), chair of the House Appropriations Military Construction/VA Subcommittee (HAC-MilCon/VA). These results represent a significant loss of knowledge and experience in defense issues in Congress as Skelton had served 17 terms, Spratt 14 terms, and Edwards 10 terms. The HASC also lost two experienced subcommittee chairs. Rep. Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS), current chair of the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee, has been in Congress for 10 terms. Rep. Vic Snyder (D-AR), chair of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, is leaving Congress after serving since 1997. He decided to retire before the election.
House Armed Services Committee (HASC): Based on the results of decided races, the HASC lost 11 of its 62 members: 10 of 37 Democrats and one (Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI) of 25 Republicans. The leadership loss on the Democrat side is stunning. Four of the top six ranking Democrats, including Spratt (second ranking Democrat), lost their seats. And, the HASC Democrats could lose their number three ranking member and chair of the Readiness Subcommittee as the winner in Texas’ 27th district race between Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) and challenger Republican Blake Farenthold has not been decided.
House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee (HAC-D): No HAC-D member running for reelection lost, although one member is leaving. Rep. David Obey, chair of the House full Appropriations Committee and an Ex Officio member of the HAC-D, had decided earlier to retire.
House Appropriation Military Construction/VA Subcommittee (HAC-MilCon/VA): In the HAC-MilCon/VA subcommittee, only Rep. Chet Edwards, chair of the subcommittee, lost a reelection bid. However, two members are leaving the subcommittee: Rep. Obey (Ex Officio member) and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), who decided to retire before the election.
In the Senate, the Democrats held on to the majority, but lost six seats. No defense oversight committee chair was up for election. But, retirement decisions will mean changes in the make-up of the Senate defense oversight committees and subcommittees.
Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC): In the SASC, changes will be minimal. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), chair of the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support retired and Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL) decided not to run for a full term. Ranking Republican Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was re-elected.
Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee (SAC-D): In the SAC-D, four of the eight Republicans will not return. Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) both retired. Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT) lost in the Senate primary and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) won his bid for governor of Kansas. Democrat Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) also retired.
Senate Appropriations Military Construction/VA Subcommittee (SAC-MilCon/VA): Subcommittee member Sen. Brownback (R-KS) was elected governor of Kansas. The undecided Senate election in Alaska could also affect this subcommittee. The winner has not been decided in the race between current member Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Republican challenger Joe Miller. Sen. Murkowski lost the Republican primary to Miller, but ran as a write-in candidate in the general election.
Looking ahead to the next Congress: The new Republican majority in the House means that Republicans will gain seats and Democrats will lose seats on each committee. The distribution ratios will be determined when the new Congress organizes. Of more immediate interest is the change in House committee chairs. In all cases members well-versed in defense issues are expected to assume leadership of defense oversight committees and subcommittees. The HASC chair will probably go to current ranking Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) who has served in the House since 1992. Rep. Bill Young (R-FL), current ranking Republican and former chair the HAC-D, will likely regain the leadership post. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) is the current ranking Republican on the HAC-MilCon/VA. Less certain is who will be the new chair of the House full Appropriations (HAC) committee. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA) is the current ranking Republican and was committee chair when Republicans controlled the House. But, he is close to the end of his six-year committee leadership term and would need a waiver from the new House Speaker to continue. Number two HAC Republican Harold Rogers (R-KY) is also pressing for the job. Committee chair decisions in the House may be announced later this month.
In the Senate, because the Republicans gained six seats the ratio of Republicans and Democrats on the committees and subcommittee will likely change. However, leadership positions in the SASC and the SAC-D are not expected to change.