December 28, 2004
Regula as appropriations chief would benefit state
By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON — Rep. Ralph Regula’s quest to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, if successful, would bolster Ohio’s clout and prestige while providing his district and the state with enviable access to federal dollars.
The 16-term congressman would become the most powerful lawmaker in a state that, along with California and Texas, already fields one of the most influential congressional delegations in the nation.
The Buckeye State boasts four committee chairmen in the House and Senate, as well as several other lawmakers who wield uncommon influence.
But none of these posts carries the weight of the appropriations chairman, who oversees the development and passage of the 13 annual must-pass spending bills that fund the federal government. The chairman works closely with top House and Senate leaders and the White House.
If Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, becomes chairman, “it in theory helps each of us who is a member of the delegation to know that we have someone we can go to of that stature,” said Rep. David Hobson, R-Springfield.
Hobson, a high-ranking member of the appropriations committee, added that Regula “is such a fair person he’s not going to do in another state just to help Ohio. He’s not going to hurt somebody else,” said Hobson, who backs Regula.
“It’s obviously a plum for the state,” said Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., another appropriations committee member.
Just as House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been an enormous asset for his home state of Illinois, Regula would give Ohio added clout, Kirk said.
Hastert has used his influence to speed up transportation improvements in Illinois. “Having him in that top slot has meant that a lot of work which was deferred is finally getting done,” Kirk said.
The current appropriations chairman, Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., used his clout to deliver federal disaster aid to Florida after several hurricanes hit earlier this year, Kirk added.
Nowhere is the power of appropriators more evident than in their ability to earmark federal spending to their districts or states.
The chairmen of appropriations subcommittees such as Regula can reserve dollars in their individual bills for their home areas. The chairman of the full committee has the advantage of access to the entire pot of federal money.
“You have a little more scope,” said Regula. The former educator and attorney has showered his congressional district with millions of dollars in federal aid to expand schools and hospitals and repair municipal water systems, among other projects, in the past four years.
Regula was noncommittal when asked if he would bring home more bacon as chairman.
“That would be yet to be determined,” he replied. “When you’re chairman, you’re chairman for the whole country, not just the 16th District.”
Some past appropriations chairmen, such as Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., became notorious for the sheer volume of federal projects they brought to their states. Others, such as Young, have been more moderate.
“From my experience here for the past 12 years, Bill Young is not the main offender in the House,” said David Williams, vice president of policy at Citizens Against Government Waste, an organization that is critical of earmarking.
Regula said Young has done just fine, though.
“The history is that the chairman of the committee gets some extras,” he said. “I know Bill Young gets quite a number.”
Lewis and Rogers have been at least as enthusiastic as Regula in sending federal dollars to their districts while serving as subcommittee chairmen. Rogers, however, claims he has avoided earmarked spending since taking over as chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee in early 2003.
In a recent letter to Hastert, Rogers criticized the catch-all, omnibus spending bills crafted by appropriators in recent years. He said they have led to “hidden provisions, excessive earmarks and haphazard consideration at the midnight hour just before adjournment,” the Washington, D.C.-based National Journal reported earlier this month.
Regula defends earmarks, which he said absorb less than 1 percent of federal spending. The vast majority of spending decisions are made within federal agencies, where money is distributed according to formulas.
“Members like ... to be part of the decision-making process,” Regula said. “Either the bureaucrats decide how to spend that less than 1 percent in earmarks or members do. And I have more confidence in the members being able to make good judgments.”