Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Work of Our Congressional Delegation, Part One

By Marc Korman.

The new Congress convened earlier this month and they have their work cut out for them: the economy, healthcare costs, global warming, two wars, and the conflict in Gaza are just the tip of the iceberg. While Maryland is blessed with two Congressmen that are a part of the leadership in the House of Representatives and may deal with these issues at a high level, most of our House members will work in the trenches of Congress. Much of the substantial work is done in the House Committees each member is assigned to. What committees do our Maryland members serve on and what will they focus on this year?

The Committee assignments may still be modified in the opening days of the 111th Congress, but the information below reflects the most up to date assignments for each Maryland Congressmember.

Congressman Frank Kratovil
Maryland’s newest Congressman only has one committee assignment so far, the House Armed Services Committee. He will likely have one or two more assignments during the next few weeks.

Locally, the Armed Services Committee is important due to the changes that the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process is bringing to Maryland. Nationally, the Armed Services Committee has an oversight role for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and input into the funding decisions for the Department of Defense, which is the largest component of discretionary federal spending (as opposed to mandatory spending, such as Social Security or servicing debt).

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger
Congressman Ruppersberger sits on two committees: Appropriations and Intelligence.

The Appropriations Committee is considered so powerful and important that Congressmembers cannot serve on another committee unless they get a special waiver. On Appropriations, Congressman Ruppersberger will have a role in crafting government spending, including the stimulus package.

The Intelligence Committee focuses primarily on oversight of the intelligence community, which includes the Director of National Intelligence and the sixteen US intelligence agencies. Some of these agencies, for example the National Security Agency (NSA), are based in Maryland.

Congressman John Sarbanes
Congressman Sarbanes sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which like the Appropriations Committee is considered so important that Congressmembers can only serve on additional committees with a waiver.

The Energy and Commerce Committee’s jurisdiction was built up over the years by Congressman John Dingell (D-MI), who has been the chair or ranking member of the committee since 1981. He recently lost his bid for two more years at the helm to California Congressman Henry Waxman.

The Committee’s agenda is vast, including a lead role on major Obama domestic priorities such as:

Global warming - will there be a cap and trade system or a carbon tax;

Energy independence - will there be a national requirement for renewable energy or increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) Standards;

Healthcare reform - will reform come through an expansion of existing federal programs such as Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) or a guarantee of insurance coverage for all.

Congresswoman Donna Edwards
Congresswoman Edwards sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. This year, the T&I Committee will have a major role in crafting the transportation section of the stimulus. T&I will also write a Transportation Authorization bill, legislation written every few years to authorize federal funding for highway and transit programs across the country. Locally, the changes made to federal funding for transit may effect potential federal funding for the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway.

The Science and Technology Committee has oversight over much of the nation’s science research and education programs. Relevant to Maryland, the Committee oversees NASA, which has a facility at Goddard and a number of partnerships with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Congress endorsed President Bush’s plans to return to the Moon and go to Mars, but a shift by Obama’s NASA could effect Congressional support.

Next time, we will take a look at the other four Maryland Congressmembers’ committee assignments.