Six Congressional Committees to Watch in 2019

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Who and what to watch for in the 116th U.S. Congress:

House Committee: Financial Services

Chair: Maxine Waters (Calif.)
On the agenda: Waters is a vocal Trump critic. As chair, she’ll have a powerful megaphone to call out misbehaving banks—and the investigative powers that come with it.
Top priority: “To bring accountability to the Trump Administration and the regulatory agencies under the Committee’s jurisdiction,” including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, she said in a press release.
Why Republicans should be scared: Expect Waters to be aggressive on oversight. That means more grilling of bank executives before the committee and more scrutiny of Trump’s relationships with financial institutions.
Why Republicans should be fine: Changes to the CFPB, even to restore powers previously stripped away by Congress, would require legislation. That would be unlikely to advance in a Republican-controlled Senate.
Key players: Republican Patrick McHenry of North Carolina is next in line to be ranking member—and has already announced his intention to defend his party’s agenda. —Andrew Ramonas

Six Congressional Committees to Watch in 2019

House Committee: Appropriations

Chair: Nita Lowey (N.Y.)
On the agenda: What Lowey will try to do in 2019 depends in part on whether Congress manages to pass a spending bill during the lame duck session. Regardless, look for her to shore up safety net programs.
Top priority: Lowey has never been afraid of picking fights, and she told Axios she intends to bring that trait to the Trump administration in the form of investigations. “We have our boxing gloves on,” she said.
Why Republicans should be scared: “She was for ‘Medicare-for-all’ before it was cool,” says Matt Dennis, an ex-communications director for the committee. Lowey also has close ties to party leaders, which will help her get bills to the floor.
Why Republicans should be fine: Fights over budget and spending are no less likely to dominate the 116th Congress than they did the 115th. House and Senate leaders will have to work with the White House to raise spending caps.
Key players: The two top aspirants to be ranking member are an old-school deal-maker (Texas’ Kay Granger) and a more fiscally conservative firebrand (Georgia’s Tom Graves). —Jack Fitzpatrick

House Committee: Judiciary

Chair: Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.)
On the agenda: Russia. Nadler has already given the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI a Dec. 31 deadline to respond to Democrats’ questions on the Robert Mueller investigation and other matters.
Top priority: The Judiciary Committee will have to decide whether there are grounds to impeach the president, should it come to that—an issue several new members campaigned on.
Why Republicans should be scared: Donald McGahn left as White House counsel in October. His replacement, Pat Cipollone, will need time to staff up the office; meanwhile, Democrats will prepare subpoenas.
Why Republicans should be fine: A former top Democratic committee aide speaking on the condition of anonymity says that Nadler would start impeachment proceedings only if he had bipartisan support.
Key players: Jim Jordan of Ohio, a staunch Trump defender, could get ranking member if the GOP fears damning conclusions from Mueller. —Daniel R. Stoller, with Shannon Pettypiece

House Committee: Ways and Means

Chair: Richard Neal (Mass.)
On the agenda: Neal has said repeatedly that he wants hearings on the 2017 tax law to give those shut out of that debate a chance to participate and fix what they think isn’t working so far.
Top priority: Neal is under pressure to ask for Trump’s tax returns. Many Democrats—including Nancy Pelosi, a possible choice for Speaker—want to see it done quickly, but there’s no timetable yet.
Why Republicans should be scared: Democrats may very well take a page from the Trump playbook and introduce tax cuts for the middle class, which could help set their messaging for the 2020 elections.
Why Republicans should be fine: Retirements and defeats led to lots of turnover. More than a quarter of the committee’s members will be new to Ways and Means, so it may take a while to get down to business.
Key players: Health care is sure to come up. Whoever chairs the Health subcommittee—either John Lewis (Ga.), Lloyd Doggett (Texas), or Mike Thompson (Calif.)—will have sway. —Kaustuv Basu and Shira Stein

Senate Committee: Judiciary

Chair: Chuck Grassley (Iowa)
On the agenda: After advancing two Supreme Court justices and 84 federal judges, Grassley may call it a job well done, despite an agenda that includes prison reform, antitrust, and copyright issues.
Top priority: It’s hard to overestimate the impact of judicial appointments, which are reshaping America’s legal landscape. Those will continue in the next Congress regardless of who’s chair.
Why Democrats should be scared: If Grassley moves to Finance, one of the candidates to succeed him is South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who showed his combative side during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
Why Democrats should be fine: Republicans didn’t gain as many seats as they’d hoped, so if Democrats can’t stem the judicial onslaught, they may still be able to stand up to Grassley on issues such as immigration.
Key players: Senator Mike Lee of Utah chairs the subcommittee on Antitrust, a Trump administration priority. —Megan Howard and Alexei Alexis

Senate Committee: Finance

Chair: Chuck Grassley (Iowa)
On the agenda: The committee’s to-do list depends in part on who winds up leading it: Grassley is in line, but he may choose to stay with Judiciary. Whatever he decides, taxes will be front and center.
Top priority: Trade could be a special focus. More than 85 percent of Grassley’s home state is used for agriculture, and it’s been hit hard by the Trump administration’s policies with China.
Why Democrats should be scared: Grassley was part of early bipartisan meetings on the Affordable Care Act that eventually broke down. If Democrats want to get anything done on health care, they’ll have to get it through him.
Why Democrats should be fine: Tax cuts for the middle class are a priority for both chambers, so Democrats may find a willing partner in Grassley.
Key players: If Grassley decides to stay put, Idaho’s Mike Crapo would take the gavel. He’s discussed the need to shore up entitlement programs and reduce spending. —Allyson Versprille and Shira Stein

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jillian Goodman at jgoodman74@bloomberg.net

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