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Incoming Wagner, Enyart get committee boosts on Capitol Hill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 24, 2012 - WASHINGTON – A retired Illinois adjutant general who wants to boost Scott Air Force Base gets posted to Armed Services. A GOP freshman whose St. Louis Country district includes big investment firms lands a seat on Financial Services.

Happy Holidays, incoming members of Congress!

As the unpopular 112th Congress enters its final week of frustration – with a “fiscal cliff” deal elusive and folks back home disgusted – the two new House members from the St. Louis region got some good news from their respective caucuses this month.

U.S. Rep.-elect Ann Wagner, a Republican from Ballwin, was assigned to the House Financial Services committee, on which – oddly enough – three other Missouri lawmakers already toil.

“This is an important committee for the St. Louis region,” said Wagner, pointing out that “over 84,000 people in the area [are] working in the financial services industry with a total payroll of around $4.57 billion.”

And on Friday, U.S. Rep-Elect Bill Enyart, a Belleville Democrat who held the rank of major general when he led the Illinois National Guard as adjutant general from 2007 until earlier this year, got a coveted assignment to the House Armed Services committee.

Saying he was “very pleased” with the posting, Enyart added: “With Scott Air Force Base as our district’s largest employer, it is crucial we have strong representation on this committee to ensure Scott stays strong and continues to grow.”

In a statement, Enyart said the 35 years he spent in the military – in the National Guard and, earlier, in the Air Force – “will allow me to bring a unique perspective to the committee.” He pledged to be “a strong voice and advocate for Southern Illinois families who have a loved one serving overseas.”

Other members of Congress welcomed the new committee members. U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, who will retire from the House next week after 24 years, said he was pleased that Enyart could bring his military experience to the Armed Services panel, which will be helpful for the Scott air base.

While making the transition to Congress can be difficult at times, Costello told the Beacon that – with Enyart’s experience as a Belleville attorney and his years as the state’s adjutant general – “I think he’ll handle it well.”

Wagner’s committee assignment was welcomed by another member of the finance panel, U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, who said it “is a big, important committee, and we’re looking forward to having Ann on it.”

Wagner wants 'evaluation' of Dodd-Frank

Investment firms and banks represent a big part of the St. Louis region’s economy, and most of those are interested in the issues considered by the House Finance Committee. That’s a major reason Wagner sought a seat on the panel.

“This is a critical time to serve on this committee with legislation like Dodd-Frank, Wall Street reform and the Consumer Protection Act needing further evaluation before they do greater damage to our already fragile economy,” Wagner said in a statement.

“The St. Louis area is also home to numerous major national investment firms making it one of the largest clusters of brokerage firms and personnel outside of New York; a number of venture capital firms in the region with a total of $1.6 billion under management; and 145 major regional and local banks with a total of $71.1 billion deposited in St. Louis area branches.”

That network of investment firms, venture capital groups and banks “make the St. Louis area key in the financial services industry,” Wagner said. “I look forward to serving the region on this important committee and appreciate House leadership’s trust in my abilities.”

In an interview, Luetkemeyer told the Beacon that finance committee issues “are not really state-specific a lot of the time,” mainly because those issues tend to be national in scope. But he predicts that the panel’s agenda will be ambitious under the new chairman, U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Tex.

“I think Chairman Hensarling wants to minimize some of the effects of Dodd-Frank that are pretty negative,” said Luetkemeyer. “How he goes about it, we’ll find out.”

Hensarling, an outspoken conservative, also is likely to target government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) – such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Bank – that were set up to enhance the flow of credit to targeted sectors of the economy.

Luetkemeyer said the new chairman wants “to get the GSEs out of the business of a secondary market and get private folks into it.”

“I look forward to working alongside my colleagues to foster the deepest, most liquid, competitive, efficient, innovative, and transparent capital markets the world has ever known,” Hensarling said in a statement this month.

“To do this we must end the phenomenon of 'too big to fail' and reinstate market discipline. We must also reduce taxpayer risk in the marketplace and cut the sheer weight, volume, complexity and uncertainty of the federal red tape burden that makes capital more expensive and less available.”

Missouri will have no shortage of voices on the finance panel, considering that U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, also serve on the committee. Given that both Democrats are liberals and Wagner and Luetkemeyer are conservatives, their votes are likely to cancel one another out on controversial national issues like revamping Dodd-Frank.

“To get appointed to a committee, each part has its own criteria and its own formula of how you get there,” Luetkemeyer said. “So it just kind of happens that we wound up with four Missourians” on Financial Services.”

Enyart brings experience to Armed Services

Enyart’s connection to Scott Air Force Base – the Metro East area’s top employer and the St. Louis region’s fourth-largest employer – dates back more than four decades.

He first came to Scott as a U.S. Air Force airman in 1969 and then served in Okinawa during the latter years of the Vietnam War. After that, Enyart got his law degree at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, started his own law firm in Belleville and joined the Illinois National Guard in 1982.

As the state’s adjutant general for five years, Enyart headed the Illinois National Guard and oversaw 13,500 troops (of which 1,750 were full-time employees) and 300 civilian employees. He was involved in sending troops into combat zones and also mobilizing troops for in-state disaster response, including fighting the severe flooding in southern Illinois in spring 2011.

As adjutant general, Enyart said he “oversaw the largest deployment of troops overseas since World War II.  On this committee, I will continue to be a strong voice and advocate for southern Illinois families who have a loved one serving overseas.”  

He also pledged to continue Costello's efforts to protect Scott’s missions and insulate the base from potential Pentagon cutbacks. With the military budget likely to be reduced over the next few years, a new base-closing round is likely sometime soon.

A study conducted last year found that Scott’s annual economic impact in the Metro East region is more than $3 billion. The base employs more than 13,000 military and civilian workers. 

Ellen Krohne, the executive director of Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, in Edwardsville, told the Belleville News-Democrat that Enyart’s appointment to armed services “is important for our area because of the impact that Scott Air Force Base has on the regional economy.”

Starting his House career at age 63, Enyart probably won’t have an opportunity to build up the seniority that could lead to a committee chairmanship. One of his predecessors – the late U.S. Rep. Mel Price, who had represented the 12th District immediately before Costello – had chaired Armed Services for the final decade of his 44 years in Congress.

Although Enyart did not get a seat on another panel that interested him – the House transportation and infrastructure committee – he will get another committee assignment shortly after he starts his term in Congress on Jan. 3. He said his interests extend well beyond military issues.

“While I am pleased to be announced to the Armed Services Committee, two of my top priorities remain fighting for the return of good manufacturing jobs and protecting programs our seniors depend on,” Enyart said.

“I will be a strong advocate and a persistent fighter for the farmers in Monroe County, the coal miners in Franklin County, the steel workers in Granite City, and everyone else in between.”

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