10:23 PM PDT on Monday, July 26, 2010

Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON – As Republicans eye a takeover in the House of Representatives this fall, two Inland congressmen are well positioned to reap the benefits.

Reps. Darrell Issa and Jerry Lewis serve as the top Republican members of the House Oversight and Appropriations committees, respectively. But if the Republicans win back majority status, the two lawmakers could become significantly more powerful as chairmen of the two panels.

At the helms of committees charged with overseeing federal spending and rooting out government waste, Issa and Lewis would be in influential positions to help their party counter the Obama administration’s agenda.

Democrats hold a 255-178 majority in the House, with two seats vacant. That means Republicans would need a net gain of at least 39 seats in November to seize control of the House.

Polls indicate that Republicans would make sizable gains in the House and Senate were the elections held today. Democrats who now control both chambers of Congress and the White House face an anti-incumbent sentiment stemming, in part, from the nation’s lingering economic downturn.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, recently increased his predicted number of GOP gains from between 25 to 30 to 28 to 33. Rothenberg said that Republicans might well reach 39 seats if the trend continues.

“When you get these waves, you never know where the water is going to stop,” Rothenberg said.

Lewis, R-Redlands and Issa, R-Vista, each emphasized that much can change in the three months between now and Election Day. But they both acknowledged that they’ve contemplated how to proceed if given the chance to lead their committees in the next Congress.

Subpoena power

As ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Issa has become a leading watchdog of the Obama administration. But his profile and influence could both skyrocket if the Republicans win the House.

Issa would almost certainly take over as the committee’s chairman. The position would not only give him authority to set the committee’s agenda and schedule hearings, it would also give him the power of subpoena.

Issa, whose district includes a large segment of southwestern Riverside County, has sought answers and documents from a wide array of federal agencies as part of his probes into the financial collapse, the Gulf oil leak and other national issues. Issa has had to rely on the cooperation of those agencies, or convince the committee chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., to issue a subpoena.

He hasn’t always been successful on either front.

But subpoena power would elevate Issa from critic to virtual prosecutor, able to seek both records and testimony from officials and agencies who might not otherwise be forthcoming.

Democrats have repeatedly used the threat of Issa’s investigations to rally their voting base. In a June fundraising letter to supporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that Republicans if given control would engage in “politics of personal destruction, including endless investigations against President Obama.”

Last weekend, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., invoked Issa’s name when discussing the Election Day stakes during a gathering of liberal bloggers in Las Vegas.

“Darrell Issa is promising to double his staff and embark on a witch hunt in the hopes of bringing down the Obama administration,” Franken said, according to multiple published reports.

Issa’s staff would grow from 40 to 80 (the size of Towns’s current staff) and would include additional attorneys with subpoena expertise, as well as Issa’s own economist.

He insisted that, if made chairman, he would focus on eliminating government waste and abuse, not on personal attacks.

“There are countless hundreds of billions of dollars that can be saved,” he said.

trimming spending

For Lewis, chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee is not assured, even if the Republicans take control.

House Republicans employ a system of six-year term limits for top committee positions. This year is Lewis’ sixth year as top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, which oversees the spending bills that fund the federal government and the military.

Since most of Lewis’ tenure atop the panel was spent in the minority, he could be granted a waiver by the GOP’s steering committee.

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