Two names, especially, prompted surprise this week when Speaker Pelosi unveiled the 10 Democratic appointees to a 16-member House conference committee that is to negotiate with the Senate over a final bill to overhaul of the nation's financial regulatory system.
Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy, D-Ohio, and Gary Peters, D-Mich. -- freshmen seen by Democratic leaders as potentially vulnerable in this fall's elections -- seemed at first blush to be unlikely choices.
In being tapped as conferees, both jumped over other Financial Services Committee members with more seniority who were as active, if not even more, in crafting the package last fall.
For example, Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., added a floor amendment to limit bank ownership in a derivatives clearinghouse to 20 percent.
And Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., was actively involved in the markups, fighting for inclusion of language to limit the claims of secured creditors of a company that has been taken over by federal regulators, and another amendment that would limit a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency to examination powers of bank and credit unions with more than $10 billion in assets.
But while Kilroy and Peters might have been relatively bit players in the Wall Street reform debate so far, their new gigs as conferees could bring them more limelight, if Pelosi's view of the proceedings ahead is any indication.
"The conference committee meetings are being held in the light of day, televised so the public will clearly see that Republicans are siding with Wall Street and big banks, and Democrats are standing up for the middle class," Pelosi said Thursday.
Other House Democratic sources confirmed that Kilroy's and Peters' selections came, in large part, from a push by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who is also the assistant to the speaker, and others, who are eyeing this fall's midterm elections.
Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank had initially called for only eight Democratic conferees. But by the time Pelosi made her announcement Wednesday, two other seats had been added, which allowed the inclusion of Kilroy and Peters.
"Well, I mean, it's certainly an honor to have on your resume," Kilroy said Thursday, when asked if she thought this might provide some benefit to her re-election campaign. But Kilroy said she wants people to see that she and other committee members are going to work hard to protect their financial interests "and protect our economy."
"Mr. Peters worked as a financial adviser for over 20 years and he helped write key provisions of the House bill," said Cullen Schwarz, a spokesman for Peters. "His private-sector experience, his expertise on financial issues and his leadership in helping to craft the House's Wall Street reform bill make him highly qualified to serve on the conference committee."
But pressed about the role of political considerations in the conferee-selection process, Van Hollen noted that both Kilroy and Peters are members of the DCCC's Frontline program.
Frontline Democrats are those seen as potentially in danger of losing their seats, and have extra help made available to them in campaign fundraising, message development and strategy.
But Van Hollen insisted that both Kilroy and Peters deserve their opportunities as conferees because "they've worked hard" on the bill and "this will demonstrate very clearly that they were pivotal to this very important Wall Street accountability legislation."
At the same time, Van Hollen did not dispute that Kilroy -- in particular -- appears to have a tough re-election race facing her. But he reiterated, "She is a good fit for the conference committee. She is a strong voice for consumer rights and protecting the taxpayer. This is important to her and her constituents."
Kilroy is not known as a particularly gifted campaigner. And this fall, she's in a rematch against Republican Steve Stivers, a state senator whose performance against her in 2008 triggered a recount.
Kilroy had lost her earlier bid for the House against former GOP Rep. Deborah Pryce in 2006 -- even though Ohio Democrats running statewide that year, now-Gov. Ted Strickland and Sen. Sherrod Brown, ran up big victories that year. According to the latest filings, Stivers has $977,000 in his campaign warchest -- a solid amount for a challenger. Kilroy has $1.4 million.
Peters may be less endangered in the more Democratic-leaning Michigan. But there is a governor's race that favors the Republicans this time around. And his 2008 victory might have been aided by President Obama's coattails, who coasted there after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pulled out of the state early.
It is not yet determined who will emerge as Peters' Republican opponent this fall. There's a competitive three-way GOP primary in his district on Aug 3. Those three candidates each have between $413,000 and $454,000 in their campaign coffers. Peters has stockpiled about quadruple those amounts: almost $2 million.
The appointment of freshmen House members to conference committees has been done before, but it is the exception rather than the rule.
One example includes the conference on the Communications Act, which eventually was enacted in 1996, according to the official House calendar's listing of conference committees.
In that case, first-term Reps. Dan Frisa, R-N.Y., and Michael Flanagan, R-Ill., served as conferees in late 1995. But as a maneuver to boost their re-election prospects, it was a bust. Both were defeated for re-election in 1996 and Democrats have controlled those districts since then, which doesn't offer much encouragement to Kilroy and Peters.
Then-freshman Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., served on a conference committee for the FY96 budget resolution.
Frank had initially tabbed Peters to work on corporate governance issues to give shareholders greater rights to nominate directors, but the chairman then chose to make it part of a subsequent bill, instead of being included in the regulatory overhaul. But the House-passed version ultimately did give the SEC power to issue rules giving shareholders greater proxy access to nominate board directors.
The language is opposed by business lobbyists, which they say will make it easier for labor unions to meddle in a company's operations without regard to maximizing shareholder value.
The Senate bill contains much stronger language, such as requiring that directors who win an uncontested election receive a majority vote. A similar provision is included in a stand-alone corporate governance bill sponsored by Peters.
Kilroy also sponsored her own corporate governance legislation.
During markups held last fall on the House's bill, the two voted with Frank on most issues, breaking with him only on a few occasions.
For example, Peters did vote for an amendment by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to give GAO the ability to audit the Federal Reserve, including all of its actions taken during the financial crisis, which is opposed by the central bank.
The two also broke with Frank to support an amendment by Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., to exclude auto dealers from oversight of the new consumer agency -- which will be a major fight in the conference because the Senate version does not contain such a provision.
Neither Kilroy nor Peters can be considered as particularly reliable liberal votes as conferees. But it is unlikely either would seize this opportunity in the sun to cause trouble for their own party, even though they likely will strut a bit for their home-district consumption.
Given the 10-6 breakdown in House Democrats to Republicans on the committee, the two of them -- without any other Democrat -- could not help Republicans overturn anything because a tie vote kills an amendment.
On Thursday, Peters said he agreed that conferees should get tough to correct mistakes that led to the market collapse. But he also cautioned that lawmakers should not go too far.
"We cannot let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, and quash the fragile economic recovery that is currently developing across this country," Peters said.
Peters represents Oakland County in southeastern part of the state, which has traditionally been a Republican stronghold.
He has just raised a little more than $1 million this cycle, receiving $8,500 from PricewaterhouseCoopers officials, and $6,000 from the PAC of CME Group, which operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.
Kilroy represents the Columbus area, home to financial services provider Nationwide and home to a JPMorgan Chase operation that employs 22,000 people in the area. The company is lobbying hard to kill a provision in the bill -- placed in at the behest of Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln -- that would require it and other banks to spin off its derivatives desk to an affiliate.
Insurance PACs and employees have given her $23,573 this cycle, with the New York Life Insurance PAC giving $10,000.
This article appears in the June 12, 2010, edition of NJ Daily.