January 4, 2005
Regula fields questions about chairmanship
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON — Republican leaders questioned Rep. Ralph Regula on his past votes against GOP-backed trade bills and his support for congressionally earmarked federal spending projects Monday as he delivered his final formal pitch to become the next chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, and his two rivals for the post, Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., and Harold Rogers, R-Ky., separately sought to convince the House Republican Steering Committee that each is the best candidate for the post — one of the most important in Congress.
The 28-member steering committee, led by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., is scheduled to meet again Wednesday morning to choose the next chairman from among the three.
“I was comfortable, let’s put it that way,” Regula said as he emerged from the meeting. “We had anticipated every question that came up, so I was ready.”
Each candidate spent more than an hour making his case and fielding questions from the steering committee. The meeting was closed to the public.
Regula, who is beginning a 17th term, defended his record on trade during a long question-and-answer session.
He had opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and more recent legislation that increased President Bush’s authority to negotiate international trade agreements. Attempting to blunt opposition from pro-NAFTA House Republicans, Regula told the steering committee he had provided a key vote for another GOP-backed trade bill, even though he opposed it.
Regula represents a heavily unionized congressional district. He doubts that his trade votes will hurt his chances to become chairman.
“Every member has some things” where there is disagreement with the party, he said.
Despite questions about earmarked funds, Regula did not get the sense that the majority of the steering committee wants to reduce the amount of federal spending that lawmakers can direct to their districts, he said.
“They want to make sure that we’re not overdoing it,” he said.
Another question Regula fielded had to do with his age. He is 80 — which is 10 years older than Lewis and 14 years older than Rogers.
“I said, ‘Judge for yourself. You see me,’ ” he said after his presentation.
Regula and Lewis appear to be the frontrunners for the position. Of the three, Regula has the most seniority on the appropriations committee, followed by Lewis. Lewis has the advantage of having been more involved in the party and raising funds for the party for a longer time than Regula or Rogers.
All three candidates stressed the need to control spending and develop a team approach between top House leaders and the historically somewhat independent heads of the appropriations committee.
Regula said he would “make the appropriations committee accountable” to lawmakers.
“The appropriations committee is really an extension of the leadership” and the rest of Republican lawmakers,” he said.
As evidence of his ability to control spending, Regula told GOP leaders that as chairman of two appropriations subcommittees in the past 10 years, he eliminated 63 federal programs.
“With the size of the deficit getting what it is ... we have to look for every way in which we can reduce spending,” he said.
Lewis emphasized the importance of getting spending bills passed in time and under budget.
“I believe we need to have an appropriations committee that continues to be responsive to members of the House, particularly the leadership members in that room,” he said, referring to a room in the Capitol where the steering committee was then interviewing Rogers.
Lewis said he had no idea whether the steering committee was leaning in his direction, but he said, “I feel comfortable that they did receive the message I wanted to deliver, and because of that I am very comfortable with what happens.”
Rogers joked that he had “whip marks all over” after his session with leadership. In reality, he added, he was “very pleased with their response.”
“During the next two years we’ve got our work cut out for us to ... show the citizens of the country that we’re serious about cutting the deficit,” he said. “And that’s going to take a tough leader who has the will, the determination, the stamina to make that happen.”
Members of the steering committee who periodically stepped out during the four-hour meeting gave favorable reviews to all three candidates.
Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, who backs Regula for the post, said his fellow Ohioan did “a great job today and the other two were also impressive.”
Portman does not sit on the steering committee, but Regula, who is a regional representative on the committee, tapped him to sit in his place when the committee chooses the next appropriations chief. Neither Regula nor Rogers, another member of the committee, can participate in choosing the appropriations chairman since they are candidates.
“Ralph would do the best job,” Portman said.
He also noted that Regula has the most seniority on the appropriations committee, which is still an important if not decisive consideration.
“If he has the tools and the skills, which I believe he does, why would you pass him over?” Portman said.