New Republican-led Congress could be a boost for North Carolina

Senator-elect Thom Tillis, Nov. 4, 2014, at the Omni Hotel in Charlotte, N.C.
Senator-elect Thom Tillis, Nov. 4, 2014, at the Omni Hotel in Charlotte, N.C. MCT

The opening of the new Congress on Tuesday brings some key changes for North Carolina that could add a little clout for the state in the nation’s capital.

Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, and most members of the North Carolina delegations will be part of the political majority. Both U.S. senators and 10 of 13 members of the House of Representatives are Republicans.

The GOP’s Senate victories in November also mean that a North Carolinian will head a Senate committee for the first time in recent years. Sen. Richard Burr became the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee with the retirement of Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and will take over as chairman.

Sen.-elect Thom Tillis, who will take the oath of office at noon on Tuesday, will be a junior member of a body that respects seniority. Tillis has said he’ll focus on jobs and working with fellow Republicans to try to get bills passed and sent to President Barack Obama’s desk.

But Tillis is part of an important freshman class – the group whose victories turned control over to their party. Membership in that group may give him more influence, said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. Congress under Republican control also can be expected to exercise heightened oversight over the Democratic White House and to try to roll back some of Obama’s initiatives. That could also enhance the influence of the state’s senators, Taylor said.

Even so, Senate Republicans will need cooperation from at least six Democrats to reach the 60 votes needed for most action, and that might be difficult. Republicans have 54 members, while Democrats, including the independents who vote with them, have 46.

In the recent past, it’s been difficult for Congress to agree to keep spending flowing to keep the government open, and it remains to be seen whether the new Congress will be able to settle on a budget and pass appropriations bills, said David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke. Since even basic tasks have been difficult, it’s hard to see Congress doing a lot on immigration and health care, he said.

The House delegation shifts to one more Republican member with the retirement of Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre and the election of David Rouzer in the 7th District. Newly elected Mark Walker is a Republican who fills the seat that was held for 30 years by Rep. Howard Coble, a Republican from Greensboro. And Alma Adams, a Democrat from Greensboro, was elected to the seat formerly held by Democrat Mel Watt, now the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

In the Triangle area, Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican, moves to a spot on the large and influential House Ways and Means Committee. Its portfolio includes oversight on taxes, Social Security, Medicare, trade and welfare. Holding will no longer serve on the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees. Many Ways and Means members serve only on that panel since its reach is so broad.

Rouzer will serve as chair of the House Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee.

Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican from Dunn, will remain on the Energy and Commerce Committees. She is also the chairwoman of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee, a caucus of the Republican female members of the House.

Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson will become the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, is the ranking Democrat of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.