A Swap for Wamp on Appropriations

Posted February 1, 2008 at 6:45pm

Just one year after being re-established, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch has a new ranking member.

Rep. Tom Latham (Iowa) was named the top Republican on the subcommittee last week, replacing Rep. Zach Wamp (Tenn.), who became ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.

“I’m pleased about the opportunity,” Latham said in an interview Friday. “I’m excited … to serve on the subcommittee, and really want to be open and have a good relationship with the chair.”

Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who notably forged a strong working relationship with Wamp in 2007, echoed those thoughts. The pair are expected to meet this week to discuss the committee’s upcoming work, which kicks off on Friday with the first Capitol Visitor Center oversight hearing of 2008.

“I’m looking forward to working with him. I don’t know him at all,” Wasserman Schultz said, adding that Latham’s record as a veteran member of the Appropriations panel likely will prove helpful. “I expect there to be a smooth transition.”

Wamp said the new pair should get along well — although Latham’s laid-back nature will be a change from Wamp, who called his personality more “colorful.”

“She and I are probably Type-A and driven about the same level,” Wamp said. “I think Tom is just an easygoing, gentle man from Iowa. But he’s also very diligent, very smart.”

Seniority put Latham next in line for the Appropriations seat, as several Republicans on the committee moved into new positions after former Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) moved to the Senate to fill the seat of retired Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

Latham is good friends with Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), and since coming to Congress in 1995 has been known as a strong fiscal conservative.

It’s not surprising, then, that Latham said ensuring the $621 million CVC project finishes on time — and on budget — is one of his top priorities, a top goal for Wasserman Schultz as well.

“Until the CVC opens, our main responsibility is to continue to provide the oversight that is necessary to bring it in on time,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Both Wasserman Schultz and Latham listed a number of shared priorities for the new year, including bringing increased security to the Capitol complex.

Keeping the focus on security was among the things Wamp urged Latham to focus on, he said.

“I don’t think the Capitol Police are where they need to be,” Wamp said. “I can’t go into the details on what you learn in this position, but the security needs are very real.”

The committee also is likely to focus on much-needed maintenance of House office buildings, Wasserman Schultz said, as well as follow up on a number of reports on specific topics due this year from various agencies.

The Green the Capitol Initiative that was launched last year also likely will continue to be an issue. Although many of the project’s immediate goals have been achieved, long-term goals remain, and Latham said he wants to ensure that the money being spent is used effectively.

For example, concern has been raised about where the $89,000 given to the Chicago Climate Exchange to purchase carbon offsets has been spent, and last week Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the issue.

Although Members often focus on the Capitol and office buildings as the top priority for the campus, it is important that the panel remember other Congressional institutions, Wamp noted, specifically mentioning the Library of Congress.

“I just feel like it is such an extraordinary institution,” he said. “We can’t forget how important it is to the world.”

Leaving the committee is a bittersweet exit for Wamp, who had a good relationship with Wasserman Schultz and even brought in Little Debbie snack cakes when the legislative branch bill was marked up in full committee last year.

“Boy, it’s difficult to do that, even though this new opportunity at Mil-Con/VA is just a tremendous opportunity for me,” Wamp said. “You can’t pass it up; it’s such a privilege to serve those who serve.”

Wamp listed the effort to get the CVC back on track as a top accomplishment of the panel. The opening date was pushed back twice at the start of 2007, but increased oversight by the panel is a main reason the project met its Nov. 15 substantial completion date, Wamp said.

Wamp also led the successful effort to rename the CVC’s main hall to Emancipation Hall, after the slaves who built the Capitol.

“This subcommittee … is about as important today as it ever has been,” Wamp said. “It was a great time to give it my all, and I think, frankly, we’ve got a lot to be proud of.”