A Capitol Hill adage states that there are three political parties in Congress: Democrats, Republicans and appropriators. Members of the Appropriations committees have been the ultimate deal-makers, traders working with the flow of federal funds and the last word for agencies and lawmakers looking to advance programs — and spending — across the country.
But a new generation of conservatives is joining the ranks of the House Appropriations Committee with the goal of changing the panel’s culture. Elected since the tea party wave of 2010, this new, young class wants to use the committee not to trade in spending plans but to advance conservative aims of reducing the size of government. Their goal, according to second-term Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., is to recast the once-mighty panel as the “disappropriations” committee.
“Many of us are here to rein in the waste of the federal government, to get better bang for our buck,” said another second-term appropriator, Kevin Yoder, R-Kan. “We’re coming to the Appropriations Committee asking how we can live within our budgets, versus generations back when it was more about how to bring something home to the district. That’s a gone era and I think for good reason.”
Many of these newer Republicans, including Yoder, Nunnelee and Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, who is in his second full term, cut their teeth in state legislatures working under balanced-budget requirements and have not been in Washington, D.C., long enough to have seen the spending panel operate under “regular order.”
Most striking of all, though, is that several of these conservatives, with Graves at the forefront, are in line to seize Appropriations subcommittee gavels in coming years, should Republicans retain control of the House.
The anti-spending drive has already rankled some traditional committee leaders, and the friction was clear in the collapse on the House floor last year of the Transportation-HUD appropriations bill.
Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a veteran appropriator who chairs the House Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said it’s overly simplistic for the younger members to frame appropriations as an issue of spending versus saving money. “It’s not a matter of spending money versus saving money. We’ve always looked for ways to save money,” he said.
Senior House appropriator James P. Moran, D-Va., said some of the new GOP committee members have been “some of the reason why this Congress is so dysfunctional.”
“You get on the Appropriations Committee in order to not appropriate, the same reason you get elected to the legislative branch in order to stop the government from functioning. To me, it seems a bit perverse,” Moran said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.