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Washington / Michigan

Figuring Out D.C.’s Latest Winners and Losers

by Sarah Kellogg
December 16, 2010

Note: Former Booth Newspapers Washington correspondent Sarah Kellogg opens a Dome department on Michigan politics in D.C. New dispatches will appear monthly.

WASHINGTON – Picking political winners and losers is both sport and parlor game for political junkies in Washington and Lansing, especially when sifting through the after effects of an election as historic as the 2010 midterms.

Sure, there’s the obvious individual winners, such as U.S. Rep.-elect Tim Walberg (R-Tipton), who bested the foe who bested him two years ago, and the national victors, the Republicans who road a wave of voter dissatisfaction to control of the U.S. House. And you can count among the winners Michigan’s congressional delegation, which has amassed key committee and subcommittee chairmanships (and ranking-member slots) that make the state a Rust Belt powerhouse.

But there are Michigan winners and losers beyond the handful of Michiganians who serve in Congress. The state, its industries and its leaders are perfectly poised to capitalize on Michigan’s veteran and well-placed congressional delegation — both Republicans and Democrats. Those early winners are:

The automobile industry won’t have to go searching for friends on Capitol Hill anymore. With Fred Upton as chairman of Energy and Commerce, and senior Democrat John Dingell still a committee stalwart, the days of begging are over.

In the outgoing Congress, California Democrat Henry Waxman has been chairman and he hasn’t shared Upton’s esteem for the industry. With Upton in charge, auto insiders expect him to serve as a roadblock to any overly ambitious efforts by the Obama Administration to regulate the auto companies, especially when it comes to fuel-economy standards.

Republican Gov.-elect Rick Snyder can count on influential Washington allies like Upton and Dave Camp, the new chairman of Ways and Means Committee, when he needs a federal assist. Already, Snyder has been to the nation’s Capitol for meetings and to lobby the congressional delegation for help in repaying $3.8 billion in federal loans used to finance unemployment benefits.

Snyder’s made it clear he’s more interested in governing in Lansing than showboating in Washington, but he’ll find out soon enough that Congress can be a governor’s best friend or worst enemy, given that it controls state budget busters like Medicaid.

And Michigan’s agricultural community got a real shot in the arm with Democrat Debbie Stabenow snagging the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry chairmanship. It’s a prime location for ag-state senators, especially going into 2012.

The next Farm Bill — the federal spending and policy blueprint for agriculture and nutrition programs — comes up for consideration in 2012, and Stabenow will be one of a handful of key players guiding those negotiations. Stabenow has been a fervent advocate for more equitable treatment of specialty crops (Michigan’s many fruits and vegetables) in the Farm Bill, which is usually dominated by the commodity-crop interests.

With any election season, there will be losers, and some in Michigan will feel the corresponding sting that comes with political upheaval more than others. Michigan’s early losers:

The departure of Democrat Carolyn Kilpatrick in the August primary will hurt the state when it comes to securing federal appropriations, especially funding for the City of Detroit. As Michigan’s lone member on a congressional appropriations committee, Kilpatrick was in a critical position to help push through vital appropriations requests for the city and the state.

While the city can count on Detroiters John Conyers and Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to champion its causes, Detroit won’t have its own appropriations advocate on the panel and could suffer as a result.

As the state legislature begins redrawing Michigan’s electoral maps, Democrats will feel the frustration that comes with being out of power during redistricting. Michigan’s congressional Democrats may feel the pain even more acutely.

While the work is done on the state level, members of Congress have always played a crucial advisory role in deciding how their districts will be drawn. That will be especially important this cycle since Michigan is expected to lose a seat, dropping from 15 to 14.

And Michigan’s education community will feel the absence of two key Michigan members of the House Education and Labor Committee. While they didn’t always agree with Michigan’s education bureaucracy, Republicans Vern Ehlers and Pete Hoekstra were tireless advocates for the state’s schools. Their retirements come at a critical time: reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), is pending for the 112th Congress.

This major policy and spending measure, where Congress divvies up billions of dollars in Title I money for local school districts and lays out the rules for everything from pupil testing to incentive pay for teachers, is critical to Michigan. Their efforts will be missed.

On balance, and at this early stage, Michigan looks to come out a winner with the new Republican House and the Democratic Senate. Senior Democrats like Dingell, Conyers, Dale Kildee and Sander Levin will likely work collaboratively with Michigan’s Republican members, ensuring the state and its industries benefit from the delegation’s seniority and expertise.

Sarah Kellogg covered the Michigan congressional delegation and the federal government as the chief Washington correspondent for Booth Newspapers for 14 years. Before joining the Washington Bureau, Sarah covered state politics and government in the Booth Newspapers Lansing Bureau and directed Lansing coverage for United Press International. She helped launch MIRS’ Capitol Capsule, and served as its first writer and editor. She currently works as a freelance writer and editor for regional and national publications. In addition, she has provided strategic communications and public relations support to a number of charitable organizations, written a cookbook, and produced and directed several short films.

December 17, 2010 · Filed under DC Tags: , ,

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