Shifting Power: Roles figure to be changing for McCaskill, Blunt

Posted on November 11, 2014 09:00 am CST

Springfield News-Leader
By Deidre Shesgreen

The Republican tidal wave in Tuesday's elections could boost the clout of Springfield-area lawmakers Sen. Roy Blunt and Rep. Billy Long, giving them better seats at the table in the next Congress.

At the same time, Sen. Claire McCaskill will lose two subcommittee gavels when the Democrats slip into the minority next year, one focused on consumer protection issues and another on government contracting.

Blunt will be part of the new GOP majority in the Senate. And as a member of the leadership team, the Missouri Republican will be among those crafting the GOP's agenda and legislative strategy in the 114th Congress.

Blunt is currently vice chair of the Senate Republican conference, the No. 5 leadership post, and is expected to win another term in that position when Republicans hold leadership elections for the 114th Congress next week.

"Blunt will not be the face people see on the political talk shows, but he will be an influential player in determining how the Republican leadership approaches the Senate agenda," said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

The first challenge Blunt is aiming to tackle? Erasing the GOP's image as an obstructionist party.

"We have a chance now to become either a governing majority or a complaining majority," Blunt said in a call with Missouri reporters after the election. "I think there will be a significant effort for Republicans to become a party that wants to govern."

Blunt said GOP leaders would run the Senate in an "open and transparent" way, with more robust debate and opportunities for amendments. Blunt is in line to chair a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, and he says passing the annual federal spending bills — instead of short-term funding extensions — is the first step toward showcasing the GOP's effectiveness.

Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, appears to be angling for a better slot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees telecommunications, health care, energy and other issues. Long would not say exactly what he was hoping for, but he could seek new subcommittee assignments that would boost his profile.

"I am meeting with (the committee chairman) next week to discuss a possible move or position within the committee I'm looking at," Long said in an emailed statement.

Long will return to Washington as part of a bigger Republican majority. The GOP picked up at least 10 seats in Tuesday's elections, and that cushion will probably grow once the results in a handful of tight races are finalized.

A spokesman for Sen. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, said she will not vie for any new positions.

"Congresswoman Hartzler is focused on playing a larger role on the House Armed Services Committee in addition to her responsibilities on the Agriculture and Budget committees, which are extremely important" to Missouri's 4th Congressional District, said spokesman Kyle Buckles.

"Part of the middle"

Though McCaskill loses the two chairs, she does not anticipate seeing her power seriously diminished.

"My meat and potatoes has been oversight" of the federal government, McCaskill noted. While she won't get to set the committee agendas in the next Congress, she said she plans to be as aggressive as ever in "making the government behave better."

She also said she'd be looking for opportunities to work with Republicans, and suggested she could provide a key swing vote on some issues if the GOP is serious about finding common ground.

"I'm part of the moderate middle in the Senate," she said, "(and) for the Republican Party to get anything done," they will need some Democratic support.

Squire said McCaskill will definitely have opportunities to work with Republicans in the next Congress and that could help her politically in Missouri, which has become increasingly conservative.

But he said it's not clear yet how much clout moderates will have in the 114th Congress. That "will hinge on the willingness" of GOP leaders to buck hardcore conservatives in their caucus, he said.

Blunt did not directly answer a question about whether the GOP would play toward the party's middle or its extremes. But, he said, "there's a lot of pent up interest in actually doing what senators and representatives are supposed to do: pass legislation."

Reporter Deirdre Shesgreen writes for The News-Leader from Gannett's offices in Washington, D.C.

The new Congress

The next Senate will be slightly younger than the current one. With several races still to be called, the 11 new senators set to take office in January are, on average, 16 years younger than the lawmakers they are replacing.

At 37, Republican Sen.-elect Tom Cotton of Arkansas is the youngest incoming senator, while Republican David Perdue of Georgia, 64, is the oldest. The average age of the new senators is 50, compared with 66 for the lawmakers they are replacing. All but one of the 11 are Republicans.

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