When the House gaveled out for the year last month, lawmakers from both parties quickly made for the exits, eager to put one of the ugliest sessions in recent memory behind them.
One who didn’t sprint to the airport was Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (Ky.), who sat back in his office just off the floor and enjoyed a cigar, content in the knowledge that despite the gridlock, the bickering and near total breakdown in the legislative process, his committee had overseen a productive year of lawmaking.
“It’s been one heck of a year,” the 31-year veteran of legislative battles said between puffs.
“We’ve succeeded, frankly, beyond my expectations,” Rogers said, adding that despite the conventional wisdom that the GOP’s earmark ban and anti-spending fervor would cripple him, the committee was once again the biggest game in town.
In fact, Rogers said, despite those handicaps “the subcommittees did things they hadn’t done in years. That is, actually legislate and compromise” in churning out appropriations measures that ultimately made up last month’s omnibus bill.
In a statement following passage of the omnibus in December, Appropriations ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) praised the committee and touted its return to prominence in the chamber.
“The Appropriations Committee has begun to restore its reputation as a workhorse committee, finding ways to resolve our differences without drama and quietly getting our work done,” Dicks said.
“In an era of profound partisan gridlock, I am proud of the work done by the Appropriations Committee,” he added.
“Partisan gridlock” barely scratches the surface in describing the level of acrimony and dysfunction that plagued Congress last year. Aside from the debt ceiling increase, a package of broadly popular trade deals, the defense authorization measure and a handful of mundane minor bills, virtually the only pieces of legislation that were signed into law by President Barack Obama all originated in Rogers’ committee.
“We were the only place where the action was all year long, whether for good or bad,” Rogers said.
Indeed, although Democrats were able to strip out numerous riders, Rogers and his subcommittee chairmen, or cardinals, were able to implement a wide array of key GOP policies. For instance, the final conference report included the elimination of 28 federal programs, lifted a ban on production of incandescent light bulbs, implemented mandatory E-Verify requirements for federal hires, prohibited the District of Columbia from using federal or local funds to provide abortion services, and implemented limits on key provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
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.