Cochran Moves Slowly on Shift

Posted February 11, 2005 at 6:40pm

As the House moves forward with plans to reorganize its Appropriations Committee this week, Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) will not urge his GOP members to decide quickly whether to find common ground with the House or formally reject any changes to their panel.

“He doesn’t feel any pressure to make a decision just because the House is meeting Tuesday,” said Jenny Manley, Cochran’s spokeswoman.

House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) has scheduled a business meeting for Tuesday to formally adopt a plan that would reduce the number of subcommittees from 13 to 10. The proposal, which was presented to the Senate on Wednesday on a largely take-it-or-leave-it basis, would eliminate subcommittees on the District of Columbia and the legislative branch, while spreading agencies under the jurisdiction of the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development, and independent agencies panel among the remaining subcommittees.

Senate Republican appropriators on Thursday resoundingly rejected the notion of adopting the House plan as is, and several were exploring ways to keep 13 subcommittees on the Senate side without complicating the conference committee process.

So far, there are no meetings scheduled between the House and Senate panels, according to House Appropriations majority spokesman John Scofield. However, Scofield said that Lewis and Cochran had a congenial conversation following the Senate’s rejection of the plan and that Lewis is still open to negotiating further changes before Tuesday’s vote in the House panel.

But one senior Senate GOP aide said many Senate appropriators were taking Friday as “a cooling down day” because most feel that “the burden is back on the House side to rethink their position.”

The aide said the House created “some hard feelings” among Senate GOP appropriators who were upset over House Members’ decision last week to announce they were moving forward with their reshuffling after just a week of House-Senate negotiations and no agreement from the Senate to follow suit.

The Senate “doesn’t feel rushed to do anything,” said the aide. “It doesn’t impact the supplemental [spending bill]. That will be handled at full committee anyway.”

Indeed, the Senate Appropriations panel will hear from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week regarding President Bush’s $80 billion supplemental spending request for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Tom Gavin, spokesman for Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Meanwhile, Manley said Cochran would continue to elicit comment from his subcommittee chairmen this week on whether to adopt a plan that would make the Senate’s subcommittee structure compatible with the House, if not exactly the same.

“He wants a consensus to be reached, and they’re not at a consensus yet,” Manley said.

If the Senate decides to make no changes, the House’s stated goal of increasing the efficiency of the appropriations process could be rendered moot, since the differing jurisdictions of House and Senate subcommittees would make conference committees unwieldy and omnibus spending bills almost inevitable.

In other developments, House Democratic appropriators plan to meet on Tuesday before the full panel convenes to determine their subcommittee slots. Aides said it remains to be seen how the minority will adjust to the cut in subcommittees, but suggested several moves could be in the works by senior members who have been disenfranchised.

“There’s a lot of scrambling going on,” said one aide to an appropriator.

With the ax on the way to the subcommittees on the District of Columbia, legislative branch and VA/HUD, ranking members Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), respectively, will be out of their current positions. But they may not be the lawmakers feeling the biggest hit given they hold seniority on other subcommittees.

“There’s just no way to game out what’s going to happen,” said a senior Democratic staffer.

Privately, several lawmakers are hoping Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), ranking member of the full panel, will opt against taking on the ranking job on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education subcommittee. By forgoing such a move, Obey would cut the void in subcommittee ranking jobs from three to two and soothe some of the Democratic heartburn.

Under that scenario, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) could move into Obey’s Labor-HHS slot and, in so doing, free up her current ranking position on foreign operations. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is next in line on that panel.

But as one aide to an appropriator said: “I don’t believe there’s enough political pressure on Obey to give it up.”

Barring the unlikely Obey move, Mollohan is expected to assert his seniority over Rep. José Serrano (D) to unseat the New Yorker as ranking member on a new Commerce, Justice, State and science panel.

The chance that Serrano’s position is in peril is already causing consternation with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The Congressional Black Caucus is also voicing its share of concern that Fattah stands to lose his slot on the D.C. subcommittee.

Senate Democratic appropriators are essentially in a holding pattern until their Republican colleagues make a final decision.

Byrd has been in “regular contact with his membership, and with the [Democratic] leadership, and with Sen. Cochran, but until the majority has a plan to put forward it’s difficult to comment,” said Gavin. “He’s trying to follow this as closely as he can with the understanding that he’s not in the room.”

Ben Pershing contributed to this report.