Rep. Norm Dicks secured the top Democratic slot on the Appropriations Committee on Thursday, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he will continue to lead party colleagues on the Defense Subcommittee.
The Washington Democrat beat back a long-shot challenge by Rep. Chaka Fattah (Pa.), who ranks 21st in seniority on the panel, to become Appropriations ranking member in the 112th Congress. The Democratic Caucus’ 123-64 vote for Dicks reflected the Steering and Policy Committee’s earlier endorsement.
Dicks conceded that it’s not a done deal for him to also serve as the top Democrat on the Defense Subcommittee. He has been subcommittee chairman in the 111th Congress.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “I will be on the subcommittee one way or the other. There is going to be more discussion about this issue, and I will abide by whatever the Caucus decides.”
Historically, Democrats have allowed the chairman of the Appropriations panel to lead a subcommittee. But Fattah contends that the committee’s top Democrat should not also lead a subcommittee.
Appropriations Chairman David Obey (Wis.), who is retiring at the end of the 111th Congress, has said he believes the current system should remain in place. In addition to his role as chairman, Obey serves as head of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.
He said in an interview this year that the panel works best when the chairman also holds a subcommittee chairmanship.
Fattah told colleagues in remarks before the vote that, if named ranking member on the committee, he would forgo his ranking member position on the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee to focus “solely on the full scope of Appropriations and to inform our entire Caucus of the issues facing us as appropriators,” according to a copy of the speech obtained by Roll Call.
That isn’t stopping Dicks from his desire to keep the policy in place.
“This is a Caucus decision; the rules have been there since 1994 that you can do this, it’s always been the tradition of the Democrats to do it this way,” Dicks said. “My preference would be to sustain that.”