GOP Victory Would Place Conservative Businessman in Charge of Senate Oversight Panel

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Should Republicans win control of the Senate for the next Congress, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee would be in for massive membership changes and would have a conservative businessman at its helm.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., a harsh critic of federal regulation who is currently third in seniority among the panel’s Republicans, is widely regarded as the chair-apparent of the committee with the widest portfolio on agency issues, according to Government Executive interviews with Capitol Hill sources and lobbyists.

With the pending retirement of current ranking Republican Tom Coburn, R-Okla., it is “common knowledge among senators and committee staff” that the committee’s top job would go to Johnson because Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has seniority, would probably become chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said a source in the Senate.  (If the Democrats retain control, however, McCain would likely remain on Homeland Security, another said.)

The rise of Johnson is “the conventional wisdom,” echoed Roger Jordan, vice president for government relations at the Professional Services Council, a contractors trade group. “There would also be a mass exodus” of Democrats,” he added—Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan is retiring, while Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., could lose their Senate seats if Republicans do well nationally in the Nov. 4 balloting.

Noting that Johnson is currently ranking member on the Financial and Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, the contractors group expects “a more robust legislative agenda than Coburn pursued,” Jordan said, adding that Johnson partnered frequently with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and might continue to focus on acquisition oversight and publish Coburn’s “Wastebook” compendium of questionable federal spending.

In response to a query, Johnson’s spokeswoman said he would be happy to discuss this subject after the elections.

Johnson, 59 and elected in 2010 in his first run for public office, also serves on the Budget; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Foreign Relations; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees.

His website bio offers some flavor of his approach to government in describing his family’s 1979 launch of the company called PACUR, which produces plastic sheet for packaging and printing applications. “Ron has been building the same business for the last 31 years,” the bio says. “From operating the equipment, to keeping the company books, and selling its products, Ron has been involved in every function of the business. It is this body of experience and private-sector perspective that he now brings to the Senate.”

Johnson’s priorities for agencies include reducing the size of the federal workforce, according to his website. He has also supported a pay freeze for federal employees, and would cut the size of the government’s limousine fleet and consolidate the number of Homeland Security Department mascots.

Johnson made headlines when he sued the Obama administration’s Office of Personnel Management for its decision to continue subsidizing the health care of lawmakers and congressional staff under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. (A judge on July 22 dismissed the suit.)

Johnson has blasted Obama for implementing yearly an average of 84 "economically-significant" new regulations, ones that each cost the economy $100 million or more annually. A Johnson bill would impose a moratorium on regulations until unemployment drops to a certain level.

He partnered with Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in requesting a Government Accountability Office study that found that as many as 35 percent of agency-proposed rules on health care, transportation and the environment are published without public notice.

Johnson has also been active in investigating treatment of whistleblowers at such departments as Homeland Security and Energy.

(Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore)

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