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Hill Preps for Musical Chairs With Top Committees in Flux

WASHINGTON — With control of the Senate possibly passing to the Democrats and the House perhaps losing a dozen to two dozen seats, there could be some big changes in the principal Federal Communications Commission oversight committees.

After the Nov. 8 election, the second campaign season gets in gear as legislators angle for those plum posts in a new Congress.

Even though the House is unlikely to change hands — Republicans have the biggest majority (59 seats) in almost 100 years — most of the potential post-election action in the lame-duck Congress on the communications oversight front is in that chamber.

House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (D-Mich.) and Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) are term-limited and will have to give up their respective seats. Walden is looking to take over Upton’s chair, but has competition from John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who has seniority.

Walden is well-liked and, as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, raises money and strategizes to help elect and re-elect Republicans to Congress. There were differing opinions on that race from sources both on and off the Hill, who asked not to be identified. One source believed seniority would win out and Shimkus would get the big chair. But another said Walden’s fundraising counted for a lot and predicted he would get the full committee chairmanship.

While Republicans will almost certainly lose seats, Walden reportedly has been advising them to run local races for a year now, a wise strategy given the questionable coattails of the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

If Walden does not get it, there might be a way for him to remain atop Communications despite his term limits. There have been talks about moving oversight of the Federal Trade Commission from the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee to Communications, which would reconstitute Communications and allow Walden to chair that newly reconstituted committee.

That would make sense now that the FCC and FTC are having to team on overseeing online privacy.

If the FTC move doesn’t happen, vice chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) would be in line for the chairmanship of the Communications Subcommittee given that she is currently vice chair.