The Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s elections means a new and more influential role for U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.: chairman of the Small Business Committee.
But if he gets his way with Louisiana voters, he won’t keep the job for long: Vitter is running for governor in 2015.
Because they will make up a majority of the Senate when the next Congress convenes in January, the Republicans will hold the balance of power in all Senate committees and will appoint the committee chairs. Virtually all legislation must win committee approval before it is taken up by the full Senate, and the chairs set the calendars and agendas of the committees.
Although Senate Republicans have not officially declared the lineup of committee appointments, Vitter sent an email to supporters of his gubernatorial campaign Tuesday announcing he would assume leadership of what is formally known as the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
“I’ll be able to shape policy that helps all of Louisiana’s businesses,” Vitter wrote in the email. “We can make important efforts there to grow our energy industry, free ourselves from the Obama administration’s crushing regulatory agenda, reduce the tax burden on small businesses, and of course repeal and replace ‘Obamacare.’ ”
The committee oversees legislation relating to the federal Small Business Administration and can consider any small-business-related issues that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of another committee.
Vitter now serves as the ranking member — the No. 1 member of the committee minority — on the Environment and Public Works Committee, a more powerful committee. But he will not move up to that chair because of complicated Senate Republican rules governing committee assignments. Instead, notorious climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., will head that committee.
Vitter’s Democratic seatmate, Mary Landrieu, will be displaced as chairwoman of the powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee by virtue of the switch in partisan control. A three-term incumbent facing a tough fight to win re-election in a Dec. 6 runoff, Landrieu stepped into the energy chair early this year, when a more senior member left the Senate. She previously chaired the Small Business Committee. If she wins the runoff, she is expected to serve as ranking member of the energy committee in the next Congress.
The energy committee holds sway over the oil and gas industry central to the Louisiana economy, and Landrieu is a staunch supporter of the industry. So is the incoming Republican chairwoman, Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska.