If Republicans win Senate, chairmen leading the committees would change significantly

Industrials Associated Press

If Republicans win the Senate, the Pentagon should brace for constant grilling from Sen. John McCain, who has found fault with nearly every aspect of President Barack Obama's national security policies.

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McCain would be on tap to serve as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee if the GOP wrests majority control from the Democrats in next month's midterm elections. The senator who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential election has never suffered fools — or equivocating witnesses — gladly, and he would be certain to use his new perch for tough questioning about Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and military spending.

A Republican majority would usher in major changes in committee leadership, with political opposites replacing the current Democratic chairmen and setting a markedly different agenda from the past eight years of Democratic control. The size of a Republican majority would determine committee ratios and budgets; more seats in the Senate translate into a greater advantage on the panels.

Obama, the former Illinois senator, knows what it will mean for the last two years of his presidency.

"If we lose the Senate, for one thing, the way this Senate's been operating, they could end up blocking all my appointments so that I can't get the people I want to be in a position to move my agenda forward," he said in an interview last week on the "Rickey Smiley Morning Show." ''If we lose the Senate, I guarantee you they're going to try to roll back health care legislation again."

The new committees would be filled in January or February. Here's a look at the likely chairmen of the major panels:

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ARMED SERVICES: McCain stepped down after his six years as the ranking member, yielding the job to Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe. The Arizona lawmaker has made it clear that if Republicans win the Senate, he would pursue the chairmanship under GOP rules that allow a senator to serve as chairman for six years despite hitting the six-year limit as ranking member. McCain has widely criticized the administration as weak and ineffective in countering threats overseas and favors far more aggressive policies. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan has led the panel and is retiring from the Senate after six terms.

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APPROPRIATIONS: Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who turns 77 in December, would likely helm the committee that crafts the 13 spending bills to fund government agencies and departments, replacing Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, the Republican who would become majority leader, has made it clear that the GOP would attach provisions to the spending bills, known as riders, to challenge Obama's policies. McConnell has said the so-called riders would deal with the health care law, financial services and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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AGRICULTURE: If he wins re-election, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts would be in line to run the committee that oversees farm policy and the nation's food stamp program, replacing Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow. A major task for the panel will be reauthorization of the 2010 Child Nutrition law that increased the federal reimbursement for free school lunches and expanded access to free lunch programs. Roberts has questioned some elements of the Obama administration healthier school meals, and an all-GOP Congress could try to roll back some of the nutrition standards. If the GOP wins the Senate but Roberts loses, Arkansas Sen. John Boozman could be the next chairman.

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BUDGET: Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions would replace Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state as chairman and is likely to move swiftly to pass a budget. Sessions is a fierce opponent of the health care law and comprehensive immigration reform. Passage of a budget would allow Republicans to use the process known as reconciliation to move on legislation that only requires a 51-vote threshold.

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COMMERCE: South Dakota Sen. John Thune would be on tap to replace retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, with an opportunity to begin work on a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act for the Internet age.

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ENERGY: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Keystone XL pipeline, would replace Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, one of the few Democrats who has parted with the Obama administration on energy issues.

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ENVIRONMENT: Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe has called global warming the most media-hyped environmental issue and has criticized EPA regulations as undercutting business growth, a sharp contrast from current chair, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

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FINANCE: Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has called the medical device tax in the health care law "stupid" and would likely use his new position to roll it back as he replaces Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden. Hatch is likely to pick up some Democratic support.

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FOREIGN RELATIONS: Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker has criticized Obama's foreign policy as tepid in dealing with Russia, Libya and Syria. "This U.S. president, despite his bold pronouncements and moral posturing, cannot be counted on," Corker said in an August op-ed in The Washington Post. Obama's ambassadorial picks and other nominees would face a rough outing before the committee, now led by New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez.

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HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS: Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander has said he wants to cut the Department of Education budget and return money to the states while rolling back federal assessments of schools. Alexander also would work to undo parts of the health care law if he replaces retiring Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.

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JUDICIARY: Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who has dedicated considerable work to government oversight, would be the gate-keeper for Obama's judicial nominees, replacing Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy.

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HOMELAND SECURITY AND GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS: Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson would be in line to head the committee, replacing Delaware Democrat Tom Carper. Johnson has been a tough questioner of administration officials about the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The question will be whether the panel's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation opens another Benghazi inquiry in Congress.

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Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.