Congress: McCrery, Mica Win GOP Committee Leadership Posts

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House Republicans last week elected Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana to be the ranking minority member of the Ways and Means Committee and Rep. John Mica of Florida to be the top Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

McCrery beat out two main contenders for the post on the panel, which oversees tax issues such as those that govern municipal bond finance.

Prior to McCrery's move to the top Republican spot on Ways and Means, Reps. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fla., and Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., had been considered potential successors to outgoing chairman Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., who is retiring. But both Shaw, who was seeking a 14th term, and Johnson, who was looking to win her 13th stint in Congress, lost their reelection bids in November's midterm election, which gave control of the House and Senate to Democrats.

"I had hoped to serve as chairman of this committee in a Republican-controlled Congress," McCrery said in a statement. "I was disappointed by the election results around the country on Nov. 7, but I will continue to promote sound policy ideas as ranking member. Our nation faces serious challenges, and I look forward to working with [designated chairman Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.] and all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to tackle the big problems facing our country."

McCrery has been on the committee since 1993 and for the past two years was chairman of its Social Security subcommittee. Prior to that, he was chairman of the select subcommittee on revenue measures.

In recent years, McCrery has been a proponent of repealing the alternative minimum tax and in 2005 he cosponsored legislation to repeal it, along with Rep. Phil English, R-Pa. However, no congressional action was taken on the bill.

But his plan could fare better in the next Congress because AMT relief is also a priority for incoming chairman Rangel.

Enactment of AMT repeal legislation would lower borrowing cost for certain municipal bond market players such as airports, which issue private-activity bonds that are subject to the AMT to fund runways and other capital projects.

Private-activity bonds account for about 61% of all of the debt issued by airports, according to Brad Van Dam, a lobbyist representing Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport. Airport bonds subject to the AMT have a roughly 20 basis points premium added onto their interest rates compared with bonds that are not subject to the AMT, he said.

Meanwhile, House Republicans also elected Mica to lead their party on the Transportation Committee, which authorizes funding for airports, highways, rail, and sewer systems, among other infrastructure. Mica edged out Reps. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., and Thomas E. Petri, R-Wis., for the position. Outgoing chairman Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was barred from the post by House Republican term limits on committee leadership.

"This is a very important leadership position and I am grateful to the Republican leadership and all the members for their confidence in selecting me," Mica said in a statement.

The Florida congressman has served on the committee for 14 years and was most recently chairman of its aviation subcommittee. Along with his lengthy service on the panel, he is also known as an outspoken critic of Amtrak, the nation's national passenger rail service provider, which he believes wastes taxpayer dollars. In addition, he advocates opening up interstate rail travel to private competition.

On the other side of the issue is Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., the incoming chairman, who believes that the nation needs a national passenger rail system and that Congress has not provided the railroad with the proper level of funding.

In order to prevent legislative gridlock on the committee, Mica and Oberstar will have to forge a consensus on Amtrak and other issues on which they may disagree.

For the Financial Services Committee, House Republicans chose Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama. Bachus beat out Rep. Richard H. Baker of Louisiana for the position. The committee oversees housing and urban development issues, securities and exchanges, as well as banks and banking.

Upon winning the number two seat on the panel, Bachus pledged to work with the Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who will be the committee's chairman next year.

"Barney Frank and I represent very different political philosophies, but when we disagree, we do so amicably," he said in a statement. "We have a long history of mutual respect and cooperation in those areas where we can find common ground. I look forward to working with him."

Approval of McCrery's, Mica's, and Bachus' committee assignments came as Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., was elected to the top Republican spot on the House Appropriations Committee, which drafts and approves spending legislation. Lewis is the panel's outgoing chairman. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., will be chairman of the panel next year. (c) 2006 The Bond Buyer and SourceMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

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