Canton Repository

December 26, 2004

Regula prepares to bid for appropriations head

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Rep. Ralph Regula is gearing up for a final pitch to Republican leaders, who will decide in little more than a week whether to reward the 16-term congressman with the chairmanship of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

“We’re getting material put together that we want to present” to the House Republican Steering Committee, a 28-member group that chooses House chairmen, he said. “And I’ve been calling some of the key members, not just in the steering committee but in appropriations, asking for their support. And basically just keeping in touch.”

Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, is in a tight, three-way contest with two fellow appropriators, Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., and Harold Rogers, R-Ky. The current appropriations chairman, Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., must step down, having served the maximum three terms as chairman.

The three would-be successors are scheduled to make presentations to the steering committee in a closed-door meeting Jan. 3. A decision could come later that same day.

Regula, Lewis and Rogers are all “cardinals,” a term applied to subcommittee chairmen in recognition of the clout they wield in shaping spending bills.

Regula, one of the more genial, down-to-earth members of Congress, has chaired the Labor, Health and Human Service and Education Subcommittee for the past four years. He is responsible for the largest domestic spending bill.

The affable Lewis, a onetime insurance salesman, chairs the Defense Subcommittee. Rogers, a former county prosecutor in eastern Kentucky, heads the Homeland Security Subcommittee.

Serving as appropriations chairman would be the most formidable challenge to this point in the political life of any of the three.

Because the committee is central to divvying up more than $800 billion in federal spending each year, its chairman is one of the most powerful lawmakers in Washington.

If chosen for the coveted post, Regula would be only the second Ohioan to serve in the position. James A. Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, was chairman of the spending committee from 1871 to 1875.

Regula, 80, is the only one of the three contenders who has spoken publicly about his bid. Lewis, 70, and Rogers, 66, have declined to talk with reporters about their behind-the-scenes campaigns.

Whether this openness will help or hurt his bid, Regula doesn’t know.

“I have no idea, but that’s OK,” he said. “I’m a pretty open person. I don’t try to hide anything and I don’t see any reason to hide where you are at this point. That will be up to the steering committee, whether they think this was a good policy or not.”

Regula enjoys the most seniority on the committee, followed by Lewis and Rogers. While seniority is a factor in choosing committee chairmen, its importance began to erode after House Speaker Newt Gingrich chose former Rep. Robert Livingston as appropriations chairman in 1994 over several more-senior members of the committee.

It has become clear that House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who will have the most say in the decision, are looking for a greater level of cooperation from the next chairman. The committee has traditionally enjoyed unusual independence from leadership.

Regula has pledged to work closely with the leadership and with other congressional committees to make sure spending bills reflect the priorities of the Republican majority.

“The leadership is responsible for the policies of the party, and the way you expend money is significant in determining what your policies are,” he said. “Whether it’s defense or education or the environment or trade, whatever it is, I think the appropriations committee has to be responsive to the leadership.”

Regula has promised to scour the budget for savings and promote accountability in Congress. House leaders and President Bush view the soaring deficit as a political vulnerability. In recent weeks they have vowed to regain control of spending.

Regula’s credentials include chairing two appropriations subcommittees and serving on several others.

He’s proud of what he considers a solid record of achievement.

“I’ve brought in responsible bills,” he said. “This year we came in under inflation and I think my stewardship of my committee work has been responsible.”

Regula has logged better than a 99 percent attendance record during his House career, he said. “My voting record in support of the president is about 96 percent,” he added.

While Lewis has remained mum on his bid, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif., has become a visible supporter of his fellow Californian.

“He’s a person who has been a great team player,” said Dreier, who as a member of the steering committee will help choose the next chairman. “He really does want to work passionately to try to rein in federal spending. He’s also been an individual who has been very supportive of the whole overall Republican Conference and the agenda and the speaker.”

Rogers made his case in a recent letter to the steering committee that was obtained by the Washington, D.C.-based National Journal.

He promised to impose a “sweeping attitudinal change of the entire committee,” including a crackdown on earmarked spending, National Journal reported.

Rogers also vowed to increase the amount of campaign contributions that Republican members of the appropriations committee raise and donate to the party and candidates to $15 million every two years, according to the magazine.

Rogers’ office declined to provide a copy of the letter or make the congressman available for an interview.