Washington Prowler

Mean Republican Ways

One bad-mouths the Bush package. The other ends Burton Committee camaraderie.

By 1.28.03

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NEW DOUBT ABOUT IT
The White House economic team was miffed that House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas bad-mouthed the Bush economic stimulus package the day before the president was expected to make a strong pitch for it in his State of the Union Address.

Thomas, who is known on the Hill for being particularly prickly, went out of his way on Monday to say that the Bush plan needed much going over with a fine tooth comb, particularly in the areas that gave investors breaks on taxation of dividends. The White House had been assured by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Republican leader Tom DeLay that the economic package would be put on a fast track. "We need the House to move, so that we can focus on winning in the Senate," says a White House legislative staffer, adding humorously: "Maybe Thomas didn't get the memo."

Thomas has angered the White House in the past, complaining about not being let into the loop on economic and tax policy planning, even though the White House claims that Thomas is more plugged in on some issues than his own House leadership.

"In the end, there's little doubt that we're going to move the stimulus package through," says a Ways and Means staffer. "The chairman just likes being the chairman, and raising questions about legislation is one way he can remind others that he's in charge, at least of this committee."

NO MORE BURTON COMMITTEE
One thing you could always say about Indiana congressman Dan Burton, erstwhile chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, was that he was loyal to his people almost to a fault. But that's not what those people are now saying about the committee's new chairman, Virginia Rep. Tom Davis.

Recall that Davis was in a three-way race to take over the chairmanship of the Government Reform Committee. Other contenders were Rep. Chris Cox of California and Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut. The battle was pitched, with Cox making perhaps the most persuasive case for why he should gain control: his leadership record, his seniority, and his vision for the committee. Shays, while holding a seniority edge on the committee, was a nonstarter owing to his rather liberal leanings. Or as a committee staffers put it, "There was no way in hell Speaker Hastert was going to hand that committee to Shays."

Davis, though, after helping House Republicans expand their majority as head of the GOP congressional campaign committee, wanted the chairmanship as reward for a job well done. With Davis and Cox jockeying for position, Hastert determined that he would not make a decision until after the Christmas holiday, at which point both Davis and Cox would make their cases before Hastert and Republcians Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

In order to calm nerves on the reform committee's staff, however, each man in the running showed up at the committee's Christmas party and made little impromptu pitches for themselves. Davis pointedly told Republican staffers there that he looked forward to working with them and that they should go into the holidays without fearing for their jobs. Cox and Shays made similar comments. "We thought that the speeches were a bit much for a holiday party, but the message about our jobs was appreciated, " says the staffer.

Staffers weren't surprised when Davis won the beauty contest for chairmanship of the committee in early January. But they were surprised when he fired just about every Republican staffer and gave them only the weekend to clear out. "Democrats never acted like this," says another longtime committee staffer. "It was just surprising coming from a fellow Republican. We expected more."

Only now, two weeks later, are staffers beginning to find new jobs in House leadership offices and in the private sector. "It's been a brutal few weeks," says another former staffer. "It makes me wish we'd pushed harder for Cox when we had the chance."

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