Conservative lobbies are pressing House Republicans to keep centrists from controlling key congressional panels, as House GOP leaders gather this week to pick committee leaders for the 112th Congress.
FreedomWorks has launched a public campaign against Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, who wants to lead the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saying he hasn't done enough to cut federal spending and has sided too often with Democrats.
And a coalition of more than 20 conservative groups has opposed California Rep. Jerry Lewis' bid to become the top House appropriator, saying he has "thwarted many efforts to rein in ever increasing appropriations bills, to cut or scale back wasteful and duplicative programs, or to accept any meaningful reforms."
Mr. Lewis and Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas, the energy panel's top Republican, have party-imposed term limits on their leadership posts. But both have petitioned the House Republican Steering Committee to waive the rule and allow them to serve as chairmen when the party takes control of Congress in early January.
The American Conservative Union, in a joint letter signed by 22 other conservative groups, warned presumptive-House Speaker John A. Boehner that granting a waiver to Mr. Lewis "would be a signal to the millions of independents and members of the tea party movement who took a chance on Republicans in the election, that you have ignored their message of change, and that instead it will be business as usual in Washington."
Mr. Boehner, who heads the steering committee, has had a tense relationship with Mr. Barton and may be reluctant to grant him another leadership term. If the Texan's request is denied, Mr. Upton, who won a 13th term in the House on Nov. 2, is next in line for the post.
But Mr. Upton faces opposition from some conservatives upset with several of his past votes, including his support of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout in 2008 and his vote against extending the Bush administration's tax cuts in 2005.
FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group lead by former House Republican Leader Dick Armey, says the lawmaker's record is "full of votes for more regulation, more spending and more taxes."
The group's "Down With Upton" petition, which urges the steering committee to oppose Mr. Uptons quest for the chairmanship, has gathered more than 27,000 signatures nationwide.
GOP Reps. Cliff Stearns of Florida and John Shimkus of Illinois, who also are vying for energy panel chairmanship, are viewed as possible compromise candidates to Mr. Barton and Mr. Upton.
Mr. Stearns' solid conservative credentials and seniority, including 18 years on the committee, make him a strong candidate to lead the panel. Mr. Shimkus, who is considered a long shot for the chairmanship, said if chosen his first effort would be to repeal and replace the Obama administration's health care law.
In the race for the Appropriations Committee chairmanship, critics of Mr. Lewis point to his past support of earmarks - pet spending projects inserted into bills by lawmakers - as proof he doesn't hold strong enough conservative credentials.
The Club for Growth, which pushes for limited government spending, is backing conservative Rep. Jack Kingston for appropriations chairman over Mr. Lewis, saying the Georgia Republican "understands the fundamental mood change in the country about the size and scope of government."
"If fiscal conservatives want to get control of federal spending, we must first get control of the Appropriations Committee. And Jack Kingston gives us the best chance to accomplish that goal," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said.
The steering committee is expected to make its final recommendations on committee chairmanships by next week, when the full House Republican Conference will vote on the list.
Less drama is expected within the House Democratic Caucus, as most current committee chairmen are slated to become their panel's top Democrat when the party assumes minority status in the chamber next year.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander M. Levin of Michigan, who is vying to be the panel's ranking Democrat, is being challenged by party member Rep. Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts.
The top Democratic spot on the House Armed Services Committee also is in doubt after several of the panel's top Democrats, including Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, lost re-election bids Nov. 2. Running for the post are Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, considered the front-runner, and Reps. Adam Smith of Washington and Loretta Sanchez of California.
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Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at email@example.com.
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