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Georgia lawmakers angle for big promotions on Capitol Hill

Party leaders on Capitol Hill won’t finalize their plans for redelegating power until after the midterm elections, but several Georgia lawmakers have already begun laying the groundwork for potential promotions in 2019. 

U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, recently announced he’s running for chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the powerful panel that clutches the federal purse strings. And three-term Congressman Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, confirmed last week that he wants lead the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over immigration, gun control and voting rights issues. 

Depending on which party wins control of the House in November, several other Georgia lawmakers, including David Scott, D-Atlanta, John Lewis, D-Atlanta, and Rob Woodall, R- Lawrenceville, could also be well-positioned to run for committee chairmanships. 

Georgia’s clout on Capitol Hill took a major hit between 2014 and 2017, when the state lost some 75 years of institutional knowledge through retirements and electoral losses. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who leads the Ethics and VA committees, is currently the only Georgian who leads a congressional committee.

Power in Washington comes in many forms, and committee chairmanships don’t necessarily guarantee more influence on Capitol Hill. But they do give lawmakers in charge a much bigger megaphone with which to disseminate their agenda and a higher chance of seeing many of their initiatives make it into law. They also tend to translate to more campaign donations and a higher national profile. 

Graves would gain a significantly larger soapbox should his darkhorse bid for the Appropriations gavel be successful. 

The 48-year-old is Georgia’s longest-serving House Republican, but he’s running against several more senior colleagues to be top appropriator. Graves is trying to differentiate himself as a capable go-between with leaders and rabble-rousing conservatives who’s unafraid to shake up customs to enact more conservative priorities into law. 

“Members need the ability to represent their districts, wherever they might be, and have their voice heard through (the House Appropriations) Committee,” he said in a recent interview. 

Graves currently oversees financial services-related programs and agencies. One of his top priorities is giving Congress more control over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Obama-era consumer protection agency that’s much maligned on the right, and rolling back the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law. 

Collins, meanwhile, is focusing on advancing legislation modernizing music copyright laws and reducing recidivism rates in prisons, a Georgia-inspired initiative that has support in key corners of the White House.

Collins, the No. 5 House Republican, is also planning to spend time in 2018 on the road supporting other GOP candidates. 

“We’ve gotta keep the majority,” Collins said. “I don’t want to sit under a Judiciary Committee (led by New York Democrat) Jerry Nadler because all they want to do is impeach the president.”

Both men will need to appeal to the leadership-controlled GOP Steering Committee, of which they’re both members, in order to secure their promotions. The panel examines factors such as party donations, agenda and popularity among rank-and-file members. 

Collins and Graves aren’t the only two Georgia lawmakers who could conceivably have a real chance at leading a Capitol Hill committee. 

It’s possible Lawrenceville Republican Rob Woodall could have another chance to run for House Budget Committee chairman next year or potentially his dream assignment: the chairmanship of the powerful House Rules Committee. 

Scott is the second highest-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees farm subsidies, food stamps and a bevy of rural development programs, and could in theory make a run for the chairmanship should Democrats win the House in November. Ditto for Lewis, the No. 2 Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, although he passed on being top Democrat last year. 

Read more: Georgia reps look to rebuild clout on Capitol Hill

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman is The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Washington correspondent, covering Congress, federal agencies and other government activities that impact Georgia.