Henry Waxman's hard-fought capture of the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairmanship has created an opening for his soon-to-be-former seat atop the House Oversight Committee. The upset also sent a message across Capitol Hill that seniority is no longer the prime merit for a chairmanship post -- a message that could shake up the race for Waxman's old seat.
The official word is that Rep. Ed Towns is the favorite to take over the post. With Waxman gone, the New York Democrat assumes the role of senior official on the Oversight committee, and his office says he wants the job.
"I anticipate wide-ranging support from various regions of the Democratic Caucus. I am prepared to mount a vigorous campaign," reads a statement sent over by Towns' spokesperson, Shrita Sterlin.
Towns, clearly prepping for the post, laid out the broad outlines of what he would do as chair: "I look forward to working with the Obama Administration to improve efficiency, oversight and access to the government's programs, services and contracts and would continue the course of constructive oversight that Chairman Waxman embarked upon in the 110th Congress."
Moreover, the second most likely Oversight Committee chair, Rep. Elijah Cummings, is officially saying that he will not oppose Towns.
"The Congressman has said from the start that he would be honored to serve as OGR Chair, but he respects that his CBC [The Congressional Black Caucus] colleague, Mr. Towns, is next in line," Cummings spokesperson Jennifer Kohl told the Huffington Post and other publications.
Congressional Quarterly has "two senior Democrats" saying that Towns "likely would have strong support when he seeks the endorsement of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee."
Case closed, right?
It may very well play out this way.
But several sources on Capitol Hill say there is a desire among the more progressive in the party to see Cummings ascend to the Oversight post. One aide, in fact, said that if Cummings were to run against Towns, he would stand a good shot of winning.
"Cummings isn't number two in terms of seniority, but he's been number two in terms of most engaged in every hearing and is sharp," the source said. "Towns was not as engaged compared to Cummings and not as good."
As of now, there is no indication that Cummings will actually challenge his fellow Congressional Black Caucus member -- even if some members of the House are pining for him to throw his hat in the ring. The Caucus likely doesn't want another high-pitched fight and Towns certainly has the respect of his colleagues (in addition to Cummings, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, another potential rival, has said she official won't run for the post if Towns wants it).
Then there is the question of how important Oversight will be under an Obama administration. While the committee launched investigations into a wide range of Bush administration conduct, there won't be the same impetus to investigate a Democratic White House. Nevertheless, there are topics the group could pursue in the years ahead -- including the insurance industry, where the committee could help Obama launch sweeping health care reforms.
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