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Capito Steps Into Legislative Branch Chairmanship

Capito is the new chairwoman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., stepped into the limelight Tuesday, highlighting her new role as head of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Capitol complex and introducing herself on the floor with her maiden speech.  

"This is our first run at the show," Capito said at the start of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, referring to herself and new ranking member Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. "And I speak for myself, and I think I speak for the senator, that really we’re excited about having this responsibility. ” Capito is the only freshman senator who is a cardinal, or chairperson of an Appropriations subcommittee, but she is no stranger to Capitol Hill, having served 14 years in the House before being elected to the Senate in November. Her experience will likely come in handy as she works to set the budget for Senate operations, the Capitol Police, the Architect of the Capitol and other legislative branch agencies including the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office.  

Capito took command of the hearing, which lasted nearly an hour, and examined the budget requests with CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf and GAO Comptroller Gene Dodaro. Capito questioned Elmendorf about the potential use of dynamic scoring, which was included in the House rules package and buttonholed Dodaro about the more than 6,000 outstanding GAO recommendations to cut wasteful government spending.  

She seemed to make a good first impression on Elmendorf and Dodaro, coming out from behind the dais to introduce herself and letting them know it would be a few more minutes before the hearing would start (After which Dodaro commented to a staffer, "She's very nice.").  

“I think I’m looking for accountability," Capito told CQ Roll Call after the hearing, when asked about her vision for the subcommittee. "I think the GAO’s point about the waste, fraud and abuse and some of the numbers he used were pretty startling. I think that working with Sen. Schatz, we can get together and really look at this high risk list that they’ve put together because we need savings and we need to make sure our taxpayer dollars are spent judiciously."  

Capito said she will hold another hearing Thursday with Secretary of the Senate Julie E. Adams, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin and Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine.  

Recent legislative branch spending  has reflected budgetary constraints. But Capito said Tuesday she was optimistic about the budget requests the various agencies submitted as part of President Barack Obama's fiscal 2016 budget proposal.  

"I don’t find anybody’s request over the top in terms of expanding their workforce or their purview or anything like that," Capito said. "So we’re just going to see how it goes.”  

In addition to wielding her first Senate gavel, Capito also addressed the Senate chamber for the first time, receiving accolades for "an outstanding initial speech" from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Her Mountain State colleague, Democrat Joe Manchin III, also said he looked forward to working with her.  

“We’ve spoken before that maybe we can show the way to have a better relationship building effort here in the Senate,” Manchin said on the floor.  

Capito used her speech to emphasize the need to put aside partisanship and get things done, invoking the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and his love of the chamber.  

After the hearing Tuesday, Capito said the busy day that included her first floor speech and first hearing highlighted why she relishes being a member of the chamber.  

“I love the Senate because of the deliberative nature and the ability to really have a powerful and stronger voice,” Capito said. “I felt that this morning addressing the Senate chamber for the first time. And chairing a subcommittee on appropriations my first year here — that’s a pretty good deal too.”  

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