The Republicans’ takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives means Arkansas’ four representatives will be getting better seats in congressional committee meetings.
The state’s two senators, on the other hand, will stay where they are in a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Rep. Bruce Westerman, who represents the sprawling 4th District across southern and western Arkansas, will likely chair the House Natural Resources Committee once Republicans become the majority in January. He’s currently the ranking member, which means he’s the senior member of the minority party.
The committee’s jurisdiction includes energy and mineral resources; national parks, forests and public lands; and water, oceans and wildlife. It also has jurisdiction over policies related to tribal governments and communities.
As chair, Westerman will play an outsized role in energy and conservation policies – assuming any actually emerge from a bitterly divided Congress.
Westerman comes to this role as an engineer and Congress’ only forester. He has said he wants to strike a balance between protecting the environment and benefitting the economy. He supports fossil fuels exploration, but he has shown an interest in environmental issues. His Trillion Trees Act to plant and restore a trillion trees to combat climate change is a commonsense, affordable idea that should be embraced by both parties.
Here’s what Westerman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: “I want us to be able to responsibly use our resources, to be good stewards, to be conservationists in the truest sense in the idea that we use what we have and leave a place better than we found it for future generations.”
Westerman will probably be the only Arkansas representative to ascend to a chairmanship. The other House members are all ranking members on subcommittees.
Let’s focus on one, Rep. Steve Womack in Northwest Arkansas’ 3rd District. He’s the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee’s Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. It’s not certain he will be chair in January, but he expects to be.
I probably put half of you to sleep with the name of that subcommittee, so here’s a brief explanation. The House Appropriations Committee is one of the most important in Congress because its jurisdiction is funding the federal government. The subcommittee chairs are important enough that they are informally known as “cardinals” in reference to the Catholic Church’s senior leaders.
Womack’s subcommittee has jurisdiction over the Department of the Treasury, the District of Columbia, the judiciary branch, the Executive Office of the President, and numerous independent agencies.
If he becomes chair, he would have an outsized say in how the federal government spends its money in those areas. He’s been patiently biding his time waiting to get to this point, and now he’s here.
On the other side of the Capitol, Republicans’ failure to take the Senate means Sen. John Boozman will not become chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry. He’s currently the ranking member.
Chairing the Agriculture Committee would be a big deal for Arkansas. Committee leaders help determine farm policy and what types of agriculture get the most support.
Boozman would have become the state’s first Agriculture Committee chair since Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who became chair in 2009 before he defeated her in 2010. Instead, he’ll presumably remain the ranking member.
Let’s close with a little realism: None of this will make much of a difference these next two years.
We know what’s going to happen. The House under the Republicans will pass bills that have no chance of advancing in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and vice versa. Both sides will play politics while looking ahead to the 2024 presidential election.
House Republicans will spend a lot of time investigating Hunter Biden hoping to find something that sticks to his father.
Democrats will try to change the subject to former President Trump.
Americans have had enough experience with divided, gridlocked government to know what actually will be accomplished these next two years: not much.
Given what could be the alternatives, that might not be a bad thing.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.