Power Brokers

Wall Street Journal -- January 4, 2013

The 113th Congress was sworn in Thursday, and a number of new chairmen will lead important committees.

HOUSE

Jeb Hensarling

FINANCIAL SERVICES

Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) may move to pressure regulators to change the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law. He also may advance legislation to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federally controlled mortgage giants. But there is little support in the Senate for doing so without any replacement for the two companies.

JUDICIARY

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) will play a central role if immigration laws are overhauled this year. He has supported punishment for employers who hire undocumented workers and has been skeptical of the pathway to citizenship for some undocumented youth contained in the proposed Dream Act. A gun-rights advocate, he could use the panel to scrutinize new gun-control efforts in the aftermath of the shootings of schoolchildren in Connecticut.

TRANSPORTATION

Bill Shuster (R., Pa.) takes over a panel his father—former congressman Bud Shuster, known for steering highway funds to his Pennsylvania district—headed for six years. With the nation facing big budget deficits, he may look to raise the gasoline tax or consider a mileage tax on miles driven. He also may try to speed approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would stretch from Canada through six states to Texas.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Ed Royce (R., Calif.) has said he would keep up pressure on the State Department and White House over the attack on U.S. diplomats last year in Benghazi, Libya. He previously led the panel's nonproliferation and terrorism subcommittee and has cited tougher sanctions on Iran as a priority.

HOMELAND SECURITY

Michael McCaul (R., Texas), a former chief of counterterrorism in the U.S. attorney's office in west Texas, may try to push cybersecurity legislation and pressure the Department of Homeland Security to make the U.S.-Mexico border more secure, possibly by transferring surveillance technology from Afghanistan as the war there winds down. He has said the homeland security department is mismanaged, compromising its mission.

ADMINISTRATION

Candice Miller (R., Mich.) was picked to lead the panel by House Speaker John Boehner after Republicans drew criticism for not having a woman leading any of its committees. One of her responsibilities will be oversight of federal election laws, which critics say are being used disenfranchise voters and proponents say are needed to stop voter fraud.

RULES

Rep. Pete Sessions (R., Texas) takes over this panel, which sets the terms of debate for each piece of legislation that comes before the House, making its chairman a powerful yet rarely noticed figure.

SENATE

APPROPRIATIONS

Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.) becomes the first woman to lead the committee that holds sway over most federal spending. She has made plain that she wants to invest in what she calls human needs, such as public education.

BUDGET

Patty Murray (D., Wash.) takes the gavel of a panel that for years hasn't fulfilled its traditional role of writing a budget blueprint and shows no signs of returning to its regular role. Still, she could use the job as a platform to guard against heavy cuts to Medicare or Social Security benefits in a deficit deal. She also can use the budget post to claim a seat at the budget-negotiating table.

ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), who brings a reputation for working with Republicans, may try to set limits on exports of natural gas, a new U.S. boom product. His interests include fostering the growth of electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, possibly through grants and tax breaks.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Bob Menendez (D, N.J.) is likely to lead the panel if the current chairman, Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) is confirmed as secretary of state, as expected. Mr. Menendez comes with an independent streak, clashing with the Obama administration by calling for a tougher approach to Iran and maintaining a trade embargo on Cuba.

HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS

Tom Carper (D, Del.) takes the post, which will allow him to pursue a longtime goal of stabilizing the finances of the U.S. Postal Service. The mail service has been losing billions of dollars and recently defaulted on payments to the U.S. Treasury.