Senators Race to Counter House

Posted February 9, 2005 at 6:38pm

Senate GOP appropriators reacted cautiously Wednesday to a final House GOP leadership plan that appears designed to force the Senate to reduce its number of Appropriations subcommittees from 13 to 10.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said committee Republicans would meet this afternoon to decide whether they should adopt the House’s reorganization plan as their own.

House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) announced Wednesday evening, that he would move forward with the “bold reorganization” of the House spending panel after just a week’s negotiation with the Senate and no agreement from the other chamber to follow suit.

The full House Appropriations committee is expected to ratify the new, 10-subcommittee structure at an organizational meeting tentatively scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

“This structure will allow us to spend less time on the floor and in committee and more time doing oversight over the expenditure of taxpayer funds,” Lewis said in a statement. “These changes will make it a little easier to get our work done on time and under budget.”

But without some sort of reorganization on the Senate side, the differences between House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees could make reconciling radically different bills in conference committee significantly more complicated.

While the House is set to move forward with ratifying it’s plan, Lewis left open the possibility that the two chambers could negotiate further changes following the meeting of Senate Republicans today. Those changes could then be adopted by a manager’s amendment at next week’s meeting.

The House plan would eliminate current spending panels on the District of Columbia, the legislative branch, and the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and independent agencies subcommittees. The VA-HUD panel’s enormous and varied jurisdiction would be widely spread among the remaining committees.

Under the new structure, the following 10 Republican Members will serve as cardinals: Rep. Henry Bonilla (Texas) at Agriculture; Rep. Bill Young (Fla.) at Defense; Rep. David Hobson (Ohio) at Energy and water; Rep. Jim Kolbe (Ariz.) at foreign operations; Rep. Charles Taylor (N.C.) at Interior and environment; Rep. Hal Rogers (Ky.) at Homeland Security; Rep. Ralph Regula (Ohio) at Labor, Health and Human Services and Education; Rep. Jim Walsh (N.Y.) at military quality of life and Veterans Affairs; Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.) at Commerce, Justice, State, and science; and Rep. Joe Knollenberg (Mich.) at Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary and housing.

As expected, the new setup leaves three former cardinals without subcommittee gavels: GOP Reps. Ernest Istook (Okla.), Jack Kingston (Ga.) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (N.J.).

Cochran did not immediately pass judgment on the House plan, which would also put several current Senate Appropriations chairmen on the chopping block, saying cryptically, “It’s their proposal. I wish I could defend it.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said he would prefer that the Senate and House structures to be as similar as possible, but held out the possibility that the Senate could decide to reject the House’s plan entirely.

Frist’s reaction mirrored the guarded, but cool, reaction of most Senate Republican appropriators.

Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who is also a member of the Appropriations panel, said the latest House plan was an “improvement” over their initial proposal, but noted, “I still don’t think it is as well thought out as it could be.”

Craig also took a swipe at House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who originally floated the proposal and has been accused of trying protect some of his favorite programs from losing out in the appropriations game.

“I don’t think we ought to be reorganizing as an attempt for a power play,” Craig said.

Meanwhile, those Senators who might end up losing their chairmanships if the Senate were to adopt the House plan hurriedly tried to draw up plans to save their positions.

“I have some ideas about ways we might be able to keep our 13 [subcommittees], but still be able to conference with their 10,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), the current chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on military construction. Because the VA-HUD panel and others would be eliminated, Hutchison — one of the lower ranking subcommittee chairmen — would likely be bumped by a more senior member of the committee.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the current VA-HUD subcommittee chairman, also seemed to think the Senate could still craft a different subcommittee structure than what the House has proposed.

“I think there’s still some room where we can make some different decisions on subcommittees,” said Bond. “We might want to keep D.C. separate.”

If the Senate decides to follow the House’s lead, Bond could decide to take over a new Commerce, Justice, State, and science panel from current Chairman Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) or a new Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary and housing panel, whose current iteration is chaired by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

Gregg said he already has a “fair amount of expertise” on Commerce, Justice and State issues, “and I would like to continue to use that expertise. Under this plan, I probably couldn’t do that.”

Instead, Gregg said he might be forced to oust Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) from the chairmanship of the Agriculture subcommittee.

The revised House plan did respond somewhat to the concerns of Defense appropriations subcommittee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) by scaling back plans to transfer several military personnel and intelligence accounts from Defense to the military life panel. The original plan called for about $90 billion in defense accounts to be transferred, while the current plan would transfer just $36 billion in accounts, according to Cochran.

From VA-HUD, the military life subcommittee would get jurisdiction over the Veterans Affairs Department, the American Battle Monuments Commission, Cemeterial Expenses, Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the Selective Service Commission.

Rather than putting funds for NASA in the Energy and water subcommittee as originally planned, the House would give control over NASA to the former Commerce-Justice-State panel. That subcommittee would also oversee the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. All three were previously in the VA-HUD subcommittee’s jurisdiction.

A newly retooled Transportation subcommittee would get jurisdiction over the Housing and Urban Development Department, Community Development Financial Institutions, the Federal Consumer Information Center within the Government Services Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Credit Union Administration, and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation. All were previously the purview of VA-HUD.

The transportation panel would also oversee the federal judiciary, for which the Commerce-Justice-State panel previously administered funds, as well as spending for the District of Columbia.

From the dismantled VA-HUD panel, the new Interior and environment subcommittee would take over funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Council on Environmental Quality, Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance.

Further, the Labor-HHS subcommittee would take over spending for Americorps from VA-HUD.

From the current Interior panel, the Energy and water panel would assume responsibilities for the Economic Regulatory Administration, the Energy Information Administration, the Energy Department’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, the Elk Hills School Land Fund, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves, fossil energy research and development accounts, clean coal technology accounts, energy conservation accounts, alternative fuels production accounts, and the Alaska Gas Pipeline Authorities.

As originally planned, the House would handle funding for the legislative branch at the full committee level.