10:00 PM PST on Thursday, December 23, 2010

By BEN GOAD
Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – Inland Southern California’s Republican House members are poised for action once their party takes control of the chamber next month.

Last month’s Election Day landslide delivered the GOP a comfortable House majority and, they say, a mandate to shrink government, slash federal spending and begin the work of undoing key initiatives undertaken by the Obama administration, including the sweeping health care law passed earlier this year.

“The conference is anxious to get back to work in the majority,” Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, said. “We are hearing the people more loudly and more clearly than the Democrats are.”

Under the departing Democratic regime, Republicans — who represent four-fifths of the region’s House delegation — frequently saw their bills stumble and die, often without any consideration. But with incoming GOP Speaker John Boehner controlling the floor and Republican lawmakers leading every House committee, Bono Mack and Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, and Darrell Issa, R-Vista, will find an easier path for their legislative initiatives.

The region’s only Democratic House member, Rep. Joe Baca, of Rialto, may be the odd man out. But Baca maintained that he has forged good working relationships with area Republicans and would seek their support.

“I hope the Republicans are really serious about working on a bipartisan (basis),” Baca said. “I want to put big emphasis on continuing to straighten out our jobs in the Inland Empire.”

The two parties are unlikely to find much common ground on issues like immigration reform or global warming. But Baca said he expects to work alongside Republicans on several local issues, including the efforts to address the region’s foreclosure crisis and rid Inland water supplies of the chemical perchlorate, and work together in the perennial quest for transportation funding for Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Bills planned

Republicans will require no such bipartisan support for passage of bills in the House, where they will hold a 242-193 advantage over Democrats. And while Democrats will still control the Senate, increased GOP numbers in that chamber leave the majority party well short of the 60 votes needed to pass legislation along party lines.

That means Senate Democrats must work with Republicans to get anything done, a scenario that could help passage of some key Inland initiatives.

Calvert, for example, plans to re-introduce his bill to create a fee on goods shipped in or out of U.S. ports. Proceeds from the fees, potentially totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, would pay to build or repair roads, bridges and rail lines in communities, including Inland Southern California, that serve as major thoroughfares for freight movement.

The plan, which has enjoyed support from Democrats in other years, could be swept into a larger transportation bill that the two sides plan to negotiate in the coming Congress.

Calvert said he also would try again to expand use of an electronic employer verification system designed to keep undocumented workers out of American jobs. The system, known as E-Verify, is used in a handful of states and is mandatory for firms that contract with the government. Calvert wants all employers to use it.

Though he recalled the past four years stuck in the congressional minority as frustrating for Republicans, Calvert expressed newfound optimism during an interview in his new office featuring a picturesque view of the Capitol Dome — one of the perks of his increased seniority.

POWER positions

Seniority also helped land some Inland lawmakers in key committee positions. Most notably, Issa, whose district includes much of southwestern Riverside County, will serve as chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Much of Issa’s focus will be on national issues, including efforts to stop wasteful spending.

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