Approps Unveils Shakeup
Amid Democratic criticism that the Bush administration is not doing enough to protect the nation from another terrorist attack, House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) on Wednesday announced plans to create a subcommittee panel entirely devoted to homeland security.
If the full committee approves the plan, as expected, it would be the largest spending panel reorganization since the mid-1970s.
The Florida Republican said he decided against adding a 14th subcommittee to the spending panel and instead wants to fold transportation issues unrelated to the security of the nation into the subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and general government, which would be renamed Transportation and Treasury. Policy wonks have already dubbed the new panel “T-squared.”
Young tapped Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the former Transportation subcommittee chairman, to head the new Homeland Security spending panel. Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), who has been chairing the Treasury-Postal subcommittee, will expand his duties to become the Transportation-Treasury cardinal. To demonstrate the homeland panel’s importance, Young said he will serve as its vice chairman.
“Homeland security is extremely important to the to country and it’s important that Congress face up to it in a vigorous way without overburdening the people in charge of it,” Young said.
When asked if he believed the White House’s original $38 billion request for the new Department of Homeland Security was enough, Young declined to comment, noting that he has yet to receive an official request from the White House.
“I have to be careful not to speak about what we haven’t gotten yet,” he said. “But I believe there will be a little flexibility in that [figure].”
Young said the consolidation would ensure that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge would not be forced to spend all of his time on Capitol Hill testifying before numerous committees claiming some jurisdictional rights to the issue.
Rogers embraced the new role, calling it “a very heavy responsibility because the foremost mission of government is to ensure the safety and security of our nation and its citizens.”
“With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security our goals are clearer than ever — to stop terrorists dead in their tracks and ensure that the events of September 11th are never repeated,” Rogers said in a statement. “I will work within the Congress and with the Bush Administration to ensure that the agency works as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
For months, Speaker Dennis Hastert
(R-Ill.) had favored creating a single spending panel to deal with homeland security and just weeks ago pushed through a House rules change creating an authorizing committee, the Select Committee on Homeland Security.
“The Speaker believes this will help the oversight process when it comes to funding,” Hastert spokesman John Feehery said. “It will make it simpler and will help Secretary Ridge in his testimonies so he doesn’t have to testify to 14 different subcommittees.”
Across the Capitol, Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) wrote letters Wednesday to Young and both chambers’ GOP leadership saying that he welcomed Young’s proposal but emphasizing that Congress should complete work on the fiscal 2003 Omnibus spending bill before considering a re-organization of the two Appropriations panels. “This will afford us time for the thoughtful deliberation required, both internally and within the administration, to make these changes a success,” Stevens wrote.
Young was not definitive about how House Democrats responded to the proposal, although he appeared optimistic about reaction from Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the ranking member on Appropriations.
“I think most everybody’s happy,” Young said. “We worked hard to put Members where they wanted to work.”
Democrats on the committee contacted about the reorganization declined to comment on the matter.
To synchronize the spending and authorization process, Young also said he would serve on the Select Committee on Homeland Security along with one other member of the Appropriations Committee. Hastert and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have yet to announce their roster for that committee.
Besides Rogers and Young, the new spending panel will include Republican members: Reps. Frank Wolf (Va.), Zach Wamp (Tenn.), Tom Latham (Iowa), Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.), John Sweeney (N.Y.) and Don Sherwood (Pa.).
According to the plan, the Transportation-Treasury panel would share three members with the homeland panel: Rogers, Wolf, Sweeney and Young (ex officio). Rep. Todd Tiahrt (Kan.) would serve as vice chairman; other members would include Reps. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), Anne Northup (Ky.), Robert Aderholt (Ala.) and John Culberson (Texas).
Sweeney said he was very pleased to win seats on both the new Homeland Security and Transportation-Treasury panels.
“Protecting the nation’s security is the most pressing duty we have before us,” Sweeney said. “It is not just the topic of the day. It will be the most important topic for the unforeseen future.”
Sweeney also said that Rogers’ selection as the homeland cardinal made “perfect sense.”
“He has a very direct and no-nonsense approach,” Sweeney said. “That’s important because there’s so much to do and Mr. Rogers is one of those people who really ‘gets it.’”
After months of questions about how the spending panel would fund the massive new agency, Young said he sat down with a highlighter and looked at all the different homeland security issues and how many fell under each subcommittee. The exercise, he said, showed that Transportation panel had by far the most jurisdiction, so it made the most sense to recreate it as the Homeland Security subcommittee and move the nonsecurity related items to Treasury-Postal.
Other programs which will now fall under the Homeland Security panel include: Customs, Secret Service, Federal Protective Service, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Immigration and Naturalization Service, first responder programs, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, National Communications System and Bio-Weapons Defense Center, various energy and nuclear programs, Metro Medical Response, Office of Emergency Preparedness, National Stockpile, National Disaster Medical System and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will be transferred to the Commerce-Justice-State spending panel.