The powerful subcommittee that directs spending at the Pentagon is set for a leadership overhaul in the next Congress, with Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., and Peter J. Visclosky, D-Ind., the most likely contenders to take the top spots, according to aides and lobbyists.
The pair would replace longtime House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., if Republicans choose not to give Young a second term-limits waiver, and the current ranking Democrat, Norm Dicks of Washington, who is retiring.
Frelinghuysen, who would be starting his 10th term next year, is the more likely replacement for Young, a former House Appropriations chairman who has been either chairman or ranking Republican at the subcommittee overseeing some $600 billion in military spending since 2005. Visclosky’s path to the top of the powerful panel appears more certain because of Dicks’ retirement.
Frelinghuysen and Visclosky now are the leaders of the Appropriations Energy-Water panel, which oversees the National Nuclear Security Administration as well as the Energy Department and the Army Corps of Engineers.
A defense lobbyist tracking the Appropriations Committee said he expects Young to seek a term-limit waiver after the election. This would be the second consecutive such request made by Young, who has been the top Republican on either the Defense panel or the full Appropriations committee since 1995. House GOP leadership opted in 2010 to allow him to remain in the top position on the subcommittee, and Young could get another such reprieve.
“There has been a consensus that he has done a good job,” the lobbyist said.
Still, Frelinghuysen appears to be signaling an interest in the top Defense spot. He started his own leadership political action committee in this election cycle and raised nearly $120,000, according to CQMoneyLine. A list of the PAC’s biggest donors reads like a Who’s Who list of the biggest players in the defense industry, with Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Honeywell International, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin each donating $5,000 or more.
If Frelinghuysen gets the top Defense spot, another senior GOP House appropriator, Jack Kingston of Georgia, may then take the top Republican spot on the Energy-Water subcommittee.
House GOP rules limit lawmakers to a six-year run in top committee posts, including time as chairman and ranking member, and Kingston will have reached this limit at the top of the Agriculture Appropriations panel. The Agriculture opening might trigger a wave of changes on the committee, perhaps allowing Young to switch to lead a panel that serves one of his most important causes, the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, according to two sources who closely follow Defense appropriations.
One potential rival for the GOP’s top Defense Appropriations spot already has opted out. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, who will be junior only to Young and House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., on the committee in the 113th Congress, instead intends to remain chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science panel, said his spokeswoman.
The son of a congressman, Frelinghuysen served in the Army during the Vietnam War. With his military experience and the Army’s 6,500-acre Picatinny Arsenal in his district, Frelinghuysen could become a powerful supporter for the Army, which has long had difficulty selling its weapons programs on Capitol Hill.
Moving Frelinghuysen in tandem to the top Defense spot with Visclosky might smooth the leadership transition, since the two have worked together for several years on the Energy-Water Appropriations panel, an industry source said. They have their “dance steps down,” this source said.
Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director and clerk for the Appropriations Committee, said Visclosky already has held meetings in recent weeks with top Pentagon officials to prepare for the job,
Given his industry-heavy district bordering on Lake Michigan, Visclosky is a strong backer of Navy shipbuilding projects and has advocated for the service to the grown the size of its fleet. “He has a real chance to put his stamp on the military.” Lilly said.
Deciding on the leaders of the Defense panel is only one of the decisions about Appropriations Committee spots that leaders in both parties will make after the election.
There’s already a fight underway to replace Dicks in that post, with veteran Defense appropriator Marcy Kaptur of Ohio vying for the post with Nita M. Lowey of New York, who has been the top Democrat on the House spending overseeing foreign operations for more than a decade.
“There will be so much movement that it’s hard to know how it all shakes out,” said Steve Fought, a spokesman for Kaptur. “It’s like a Rubik’s Cube. When you move one thing others move too.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.