December 27, 2004
Next appropriations chairman in for a grueling stint
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON — Whoever wins the post of House Appropriations Committee chairman will have the reward of one of the toughest jobs in Congress.
Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, is vying for the position along with two fellow members of the appropriations committee, Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., and Harold Rogers, R-Ky.
“Frankly, I’m not sure why anybody ever wants” the job, said Rep. David Hobson, R-Springfield, a high-ranking member of the committee. “While you get a nice office, most of your time is spent trying to get enough money to get the job done and then handling the issues of both the House and Senate and leadership.”
On top of the historic demands of the job, the next appropriations chairman will face several daunting challenges. Congressional leaders expect him to hold the line on spending, embrace their priorities and raise lots of campaign contributions to help retain a Republican majority in the 2006 election.
Along with his counterpart in the Senate, the House appropriations chairman is responsible for the drafting and passage of the 13 annual spending bills that provide funding for the federal government.
Appropriators must craft spending legislation that reflects the goals of Congress and can win the support of a majority of lawmakers and the president. Congressional leaders and the White House are heavily involved in the process.
As appropriations subcommittee chairmen, Regula, 80, Lewis, 70, and Rogers, 66, already hold important positions in Congress. Each is responsible for a major spending bill.
Chairmanship of the full committee, however, is a challenge of a different order.
The position requires prodigious energy, savvy political judgment, an encyclopedic knowledge of the budget and formidable negotiating skills.
The next chairman also will be expected to raise lots of campaign contributions to help the party and GOP candidates. Political action committees, lobbyists and others funnel millions of dollars to appropriations chairmen, hoping to influence their decisions on spending and other legislation.
“Oh my God, it’s awful, because you have to be knowledgeable of all the bills and of all the nuances in those bills, plus the various nuances between the House and the Senate in different bills,” Hobson said of the chairman’s job. “I don’t know of a more difficult job in the Congress than this one.”
The chairman is faced with the most difficult and far reaching spending decisions, such as how much money to allocate for the war in Iraq or the battle against AIDS, said Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., another appropriations committee member.
“It’s much higher stakes” than being a subcommittee chairman, Kirk said.
The 139-year-old appropriations committee has a long tradition of operating with relative independence from the leadership and other committees.
House GOP leaders began to wrest control of the committee two years ago, when they required subcommittee chairmen to win the endorsement of the House Republican Steering Committee to retain their positions. Previously, only full committee chairmen needed that approval.
In another sign of direction from above, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, earlier this month proposed an extensive restructuring of the appropriations committee to more logically reflect congressional operations.
Rogers has pledged to “boldly retool, reorganize and re-energize the committee,” according to a letter to the leadership obtained by the National Journal.
Without Senate concurrence, DeLay’s proposal stands little chance of success, according to some who are close to the committee.
“I think it’s something we’ll talk about,” Regula said of the plan. “Whether it will go to complete fruition, I don’t know. There might be some modest changes that can be made in the short-term and a more comprehensive change in the longer term.”
Appropriators have a well-deserved reputation for increasing spending, a point of contention among more fiscally austere conservatives in recent years. Congress sought to gain greater control over the budget this year, approving spending legislation that holds non-defense expenditures to the same level as last year.
Republican leaders also are worried about losing their majority in 2006, because the midterm election during a president’s second term is notoriously perilous for the party in power.
“Interestingly enough, we were talking about the 2006 election even before the 2004 election, and we were saying as tough and challenging as this is right now, we know that we’ve got even more work to do on the 2006 election,” said House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, R-Calif.
GOP leaders expect the next appropriations chairman to play a major role in raising money to support Republican candidates two years from now.