At the start of the 109th Congress in 2005, Republicans proposed sweeping changes to the House Appropriations Committee, including eliminating the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch and rolling its duties into the full committee.
And though the House GOP, having once more seized control of the chamber, is bent on spending cuts and committee reorganization, Members and staff say eliminating the subcommittee again is not among their priorities in the 112th.
GOP leadership has made no official decision or statement and will not do so at least until the Republican Steering Committee votes on a chairman, a spokesman said. The vote is expected early this week.
Speaker-designate John Boehner has called for reviewing overall committee structure and removing duplicative committees — reasons his spokesman cited Wednesday for eliminating the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee next year.
But one GOP transition staffer said it would be a surprise to see the Ohio Republican on the side of disbanding the Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, calling him “a steward at heart.”
“It’s kind of part of his shtick that he takes care of everything he has. He irons his own shirts. He cuts his own grass. He’s a neat freak,” the staffer said. “So if you think it’s important to maintain things, then why wouldn’t you want to have a legislative branch Appropriations subcommittee to focus on that sort of thing?”
The subcommittee oversees the House budget as well as the budgets of the Architect of the Capitol, Capitol Police, Library of Congress, Capitol Visitor Center and other agencies.
Then-Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) — now the ranking member and again in the hunt for the chairmanship — eliminated the subcommittee in 2005.
Democrats criticized him for acquiescing to the will of then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who proposed the idea. It was restored when Democrats took over the House in 2007.
“They largely got rid of that because of all of the bad stories about cost overruns on the CVC under the Republicans,” a Democratic staffer said. “Eliminate the subcommittee and it becomes much less of an in-your-face story.”
But next year, preserving the subcommittee would provide a valuable venue for publicizing the cuts in their own backyard that Republicans have promised, said one contender for the Appropriations chairmanship, also a former chairman of the subcommittee.
Rep. Jack Kingston, who chaired the subcommittee before it was abolished, said it serves an important purpose.
“The more scrutiny any spending act has, the easier it would be to find waste and duplicity,” the Georgia Republican said Friday. “Nationally, it’s not a high-profile committee, but it does sort of show and tell a little bit about us and our own culture.”
Similarly, Rep. Tom Cole, who co-chairs the GOP transition team and sits on the subcommittee, said eliminating it “would be unwise to do,” though he expressed no ambitions for the chairmanship.
“I think that committee performs an important function,” the Oklahoma Republican said. “It’s not one of the bigger or more glamorous subcommittees on Appropriations, but I think it’s very easy for abuses to grow up within the system we operate unless you’re constantly weeding the garden.”
In a statement, subcommittee ranking member Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who may be chairman next year, said, “I am not aware of any efforts to eliminate the Legislative Branch Subcommittee.”
A GOP subcommittee staffer expounded. “We believe that will not happen,” the staffer said. “We’ve got millions of visitors coming to the Capitol every year and we’ve got to make sure the facility is safe for the visitors and the Congressmen.”
A spokesman for Lewis said the Congressman will not comment on committee organization, but Lewis would need a term-limits waiver to chair the committee, making the other two Representatives frontrunners.
In a statement, the last contender, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), didn’t say anything about the subcommittee but said the full committee “will be ground zero in making the tough, surgical decisions to cut spending.”
Also weighing on the side of maintaining the subcommittee is the matter of a Democratic Senate majority.
The two chambers’ Appropriations panels are not required to have the same structure, but they have traditionally made parallel changes, as in 2003 when a Homeland Security panel was added to each side.
The panels have identical subcommittees, and any lopsidedness could slow down an already drawn-out appropriations process.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.