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Appropriations Suddenly Anathema to GOPers

Few Members Seek Once-Coveted Slots

Republicans appear to be shying away from what has historically been among the most coveted assignments on Capitol Hill — a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

The post is not so plum anymore thanks to rising voter anger over federal spending and the party’s own decision to prohibit Members from requesting earmarks for their districts.

With several members of the committee retiring and the possibility of a Republican takeover of the House, there are likely to be ample GOP spots to fill next year.

But few Republicans have requested those seats.

“There have been very few because they know that there was not going to be any chance to spend money,” said one Member with knowledge of requests.

House Republicans passed a unilateral one-year earmark moratorium in March that barred Conference members from requesting any projects. The policy was controversial within the Conference, and many Members said they thought it would have to be revised in the future, but GOP leaders have given no indication whether the policy will stand next year.

One Member said the loss of interest has to do with the uncertainty surrounding the GOP earmark policy as well as the realization that the political environment will not allow the committee to function as it once did.

Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) told reporters Wednesday that Republicans are committed to reforming the process, but he did not offer any details on what the new process will look like.

“House Republicans are determined to end earmarks as we know them,” Pence said. “The American people are tired of spending as usual in Washington, D.C. We need to close the favor factory and fundamentally transform the way we spend the people’s money.”

Other Members have begun to see the ability to earmark as a political liability instead of a way to bring home the bacon.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who once sought a slot on Appropriations, said he will not seek the position this year and instead hopes to take advantage of his seniority on an Armed Services subcommittee.

“My constituents are very concerned about overspending on earmarks, and so that particular committee could be perceived as negative,” he said. “The district I represent and myself are focused on Armed Services.”

Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) used the spending panel as a central issue in his Senate primary campaign against committee member Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was also taken to task over her role on the Appropriations Committee by her primary opponent, Joe Miller.

Both Murkowski and Tiahrt lost their primary bids.

The committee hasn’t been politically toxic just for Republicans.

Democratic appropriators have also realized that the post no longer protects them from a tough challenge. Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.), the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, steered millions of dollars to his home state over the years but lost his primary election, as did Appropriations Committee member Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah).

Neither Mollohan nor Bennett lost their seats solely because of their positions as appropriators, but it showed that the clout was no longer what it used to be.

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