Crapo, Risch Stand To Gain Influence When Republicans Take Control Of Senate

Nov 6, 2014

Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson congratulate each other on Election Night.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Republicans will take control of the U.S. Senate in January. That could mean more influence for Idaho’s two Republican senators.

When a new party takes control, each of the Senate’s 20 committees and 68 subcommittees get a new leader. Sarah Binder studies Congress at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. She describes it as a big round of musical chairs. Binder says heading a Congressional committee brings power.

“You’re really empowered to decide what are the issues we’re going to debate about,” she says. “[It] Doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to see those issues through to enactment, but certainly bills go farther when they’re sponsored by committee chairs.”

Senate committee leadership is mostly a matter of seniority. Idaho’s Mike Crapo is the top Republican on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and Jim Risch is the ranking Republican on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. 

Binder says that does not mean they’ll automatically become the chairmen of those committees. And she says they could end up heading other committees instead. For example, she says if other Republicans with more seniority than Risch on the Senate Intelligence Committee prefer to chair other committees where they also have seniority, there’s a chance Risch could wind up heading the Intelligence Committee. 

Chairing a committee doesn’t carry the power to directly help a Senator’s state like it did before Congress did away with earmarks. Now, Binder says it’s about leverage. An example: How responsive people in the transportation department might be when a Senator calls to talk about a bridge project on the Snake River. 

Binder says being in the majority increases a Senator’s influence. Chairing a committee increases it even more - especially within government.

“Agencies are dependent, of course, on Congress for their budgets," she says. “They have to go testify on behalf of those budgets. And that brings you kind of head to head with chairs and so that in itself provides some leverage for lawmakers in terms of getting a bureaucracy or an agency to be responsive to the interests of Idaho.”

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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