Republicans Say Default Wouldn’t Be So Bad

National Journal
Megan Scully
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Megan Scully
Oct. 8, 2013, 6 p.m.

Up­dated at 4:50 p.m. on Novem­ber 3, 2010. In what some have called a “dooms­day scen­ario,” voters have ous­ted the most seni­or Demo­crats on the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee in a ma­jor house­clean­ing that will dra­mat­ic­ally re­shape the struc­ture of the power­ful pan­el.

Chair­man Ike Skelton of Mis­souri, Rep. John Spratt of South Car­o­lina and Seapower Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Gene Taylor of Mis­sis­sippi — the first, second and fourth most seni­or Demo­crats on the com­mit­tee — were all de­feated Tues­day.

It also ap­pears that the No. 3 Demo­crat, Read­i­ness Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man So­lomon Ort­iz, lost his race by about 800 votes. But the 14-term Demo­crat, who has long had a strong­hold on his south­ern Texas dis­trict, has not yet con­ceded.

These old stal­warts have been a fix­ture in the top row of the Armed Ser­vices hear­ing room for a dec­ade and have served as power­ful, mod­er­ate voices on a com­mit­tee that prides it­self on bi­par­tis­an ac­tion.

Their losses will ush­er in a new class of seni­or Demo­crats on the pan­el at a crit­ic­al time for the war in Afgh­anistan and for the Pentagon budget, both of which will re­ceive in­tense scru­tiny from law­makers over the next sev­er­al months.

Ort­iz had long been thought to be the most likely and lo­gic­al suc­cessor to Skelton. But if he loses reelec­tion, it will open a race for rank­ing mem­ber of the full com­mit­tee.

One pos­sib­il­ity, a Demo­crat­ic source said, is House In­tel­li­gence Chair­man Sil­vestre Reyes, D-Texas. Reyes’s can­did­acy will hinge on the fi­nal out­come of Ort­iz’s race, as two Texas Demo­crats in the His­pan­ic Caucus would be un­likely to battle pub­licly for the same post.

Reyes also could bring with him some of his staff on the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, which would res­ult in sig­ni­fic­ant job-shuff­ling with­in the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, the source said. After Demo­crats took con­trol of Con­gress in 2006, the com­mit­tee re­tained much of its staff des­pite the switch in party con­trol.

In a sig­ni­fic­ant shift from Skelton’s lead­er­ship, Reyes as rank­ing mem­ber could be a huge boon for the Army on a com­mit­tee that has long been skep­tic­al of that ser­vice’s ef­forts to mod­ern­ize its equip­ment and has of­ten led ef­forts to slash fund­ing for its key pro­grams.

Reyes’s dis­trict in­cludes Fort Bliss, the Army base where the ser­vice has tested many of its new­est tech­no­lo­gies. In May, the sev­en-term Demo­crat suc­cess­fully fought to re­store more than $100 mil­lion in cuts the com­mit­tee made to sev­er­al tech­no­lo­gies the ser­vice is sal­va­ging from the can­celed Fu­ture Com­bat Sys­tems pro­gram.

His spokes­man, Vin­cent Perez, de­clined to dis­cuss the law­maker’s op­tions. “At this point, it’s pre­ma­ture to spec­u­late about fu­ture lead­er­ship roles,” Perez said in an e-mail to Na­tion­al Journ­al. “Con­gress­man Ort­iz’s race has not been called yet, and Chair­man Reyes is hope­ful his good friend will re­turn for an­oth­er term.”

Reyes may not be the only Demo­crat with eyes for the party’s top slot on the com­mit­tee.

Air and Land Forces Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Smith, D-Wash., would be next in seni­or­ity after Reyes and is con­sidered by both parties to be a rising star on the com­mit­tee. Smith’s race has not been called yet, but he is ahead. If Reyes is in­ter­ested in the post, however, it would be dif­fi­cult for Demo­crats to jump over a more seni­or His­pan­ic mem­ber to choose Smith for the job.

One Demo­crat­ic aide said there have been rum­blings that Rep. Rob An­drews, D-N.J., could at­tempt to leapfrog sev­er­al oth­er mem­bers to claim Skelton’s old job. An­drews is in charge of the com­mit­tee’s ac­quis­i­tion re­form pan­el and has be­come a stronger voice on the com­mit­tee in re­cent years.

If An­drews were to be­come rank­ing mem­ber, he could “ham­mer the Re­pub­lic­ans but do it in a bi­par­tis­an way,” the aide said.

An­drews is clearly am­bi­tious. In 2008, he un­suc­cess­fully chal­lenged in­cum­bent Sen. Frank Lauten­berg, D-N.J., in a di­vis­ive primary.

“If his­tory is any in­dic­a­tion, he does not shy from a chal­lenge,” the aide said.

As Demo­crats weigh who will lead them on the com­mit­tee in the next Con­gress, the shake-up for the com­mit­tee’s mem­ber­ship did not stop at the top row. Sev­er­al oth­er Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents — in­clud­ing Glenn Nye of Vir­gin­ia, Jim Mar­shall of Geor­gia, and Car­ol Shea-Port­er of New Hamp­shire — also lost reelec­tion.

Re­pub­lic­ans will con­trol the gavel in the next Con­gress, but the in­flux of a new class of Demo­crats on the com­mit­tee could prove chal­len­ging.

“It doesn’t be­ne­fit us if there’s that much turnover” be­cause it re­places Demo­crats on the com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans have good re­la­tion­ships with, a GOP source said.

Who re­places them will be the ques­tion many in the Pentagon, the de­fense in­dustry and Cap­it­ol Hill will be ask­ing today and in the weeks to come.



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