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Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz takes a tour of the liberal side

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Agree to disagree » The Oversight and Government Reform Committee serves as the House’s top investigative panel, constantly requiring the administration, federal agencies and recipients of federal funds to account for problems that surface. More to the point, it’s the committee where scandals are dissected, or, as some critics charge, created.

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Chaffetz, currently the head of a subcommittee, would have unilateral power to subpoena testimony and records as full committee chairman, a position he’s publicly campaigning for. He’s one of the more vocal and media-savvy members. And while he might not be as confrontational as Issa, the current committee leader, Chaffetz has been just as eager to decry the administration’s response to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS and the cross-border gun-running that happened under the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ Fast and Furious program. Democrats, like Cummings, complain often that the GOP is just trying to find fire where there isn’t even smoke.

If Republicans maintain control of the House this November, GOP leaders are likely to pick the new chairman from three candidates: Chaffetz, Mike Turner of Ohio and John Mica of Michigan. Cummings hasn’t scheduled tours of his district with any other candidates for chairman, but his office says there’s an open invitation for any committee members to do one.

Cummings sees hope in Chaffetz’s potential chairmanship.

"We’re going to disagree," Cummings says of his Utah colleague, "but I can tell you when you know something about a person and where they’re coming from and why they have the motivation they have, it makes it easier to work together. It’s only common sense."

For his part, Chaffetz says the two get along "fabulously."

"I think it will be a strength, not a negative," the Utahn says of their relationship. "You break bread with him and you get to know him."

The two dined the night before in Baltimore’s inner harbor, away from the more gritty areas of town. Over steaks, Chaffetz talked about the public land battles that Utah faces; Cummings talked about the need to raise the minimum wage.

At the Sandtown Winchester Senior Center, Cummings jumps right into the issue he knows the crowd is concerned about.

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"I’m not saying that this is Congressman Chaffetz’s idea, but there have been some of our Republican friends, and actually the president talked about it for a while, talked about cutting Social Security benefits," Cummings says. "Now don’t be shy. If you have concerns about that, let us know."

Chaffetz notes he wants to reform Social Security so it will be there for generations to come but promises the seniors that he doesn’t want to cut their benefits. He then pivots to his district, its younger population and booming economy.

"We’re very blessed, but we have our challenges too," Chaffetz says. "We deal with issues that you don’t deal with here. We deal with public lands issues. Seventy percent of our state is owned by the state or federal government. And that’s kind of hard to fathom, to understand what that looks like."

It was for the crowd, the same way it was hard to understand that an overpopulation of wild horses was something that plagued any place in the 21st century. The Utahn saw he was losing the crowd.

"I’m going to go ahead and guess you were more Barack Obama fans than you were Mitt Romney fans," Chaffetz says, earning a strong laughter. Indeed, 76 percent of Cummings’ district voted for Obama; 78 percent of Chaffetz’s backed Romney.

Cummings swooped in.

"I think its safe to say that this is a group of people who like Barack Obama," Cummings said. "A lot of them never dreamed, come on, be honest, never dreamed, never dreamed that in their lifetime that they would see a man of color in the White House. It was a very proud moment."

After the applause, Chaffetz, who had traveled the country stumping for Romney and against Obama, noted he didn’t vote for the president. But, he added, it was monumental to elect the nation’s first black president, and especially important that Obama’s race wasn’t the driving factor.

It was similar, to some degree, Chaffetz said, to Romney, a devout Mormon, securing the Republican nomination.

"I’m a Mormon," Chaffetz said. "You may not have met somebody who is a part of the Mormon church but I will tell you what, when we saw Mitt Romney become the Republican nominee for president of the United States and his background in religion was not the No. 1 issue — he didn’t lose because he was Mormon, he lost because he didn’t get enough votes — that’s an important thing, too."

The reverse of this conversation is likely to take place later this fall, when Cummings visits Chaffetz’s 3rd Congressional District, home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Brigham Young University and a majority Mormon population. Chaffetz isn’t sure yet where he’ll take his counterpart on a tour, but is excited to show what matters to his folks back home, too.

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