House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers has to get the government funded before surrendering his gavel at the end of the Congress, but Thursday night was for reminiscing.
No shortage of former members, from House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois to Appropriations Chairman David R. Obey to more recently retired colleagues filled the Appropriations panel’s hearing room with friends, family and staff for the Rogers portrait unveiling Thursday evening.
“Last time I was in this room, it was for the hanging of David Obey. And boy, was I looking forward to that,” Speaker Paul D. Ryan said. “It’s great seeing you David by the way, it really is.”
Ryan was of course referring to the portrait unveiling for the retired Democratic appropriator from his home state of Wisconsin.
As for the man of the hour, Ryan said, “This man eats, sleeps, breathes, bleeds for Kentucky.”
“He drinks, too,” interjected Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.
During the lighthearted evening, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California told the story of the first time he traveled the Hal Rogers Parkway, a 75-mile highway in Kentucky. McCarthy learned that a Democratic governor had renamed the road for Rogers after it had been previously known as the Daniel Boone Parkway.
“He has epitomized … the ability to get things done, to work with the other side, to make it a congenial committee, to make it bipartisan as much as could be possible,” former Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston said. “The rest of the Congress should take note.”
And praise for Rogers was predictably bipartisan among appropriators, with Obey praising his past work on homeland security issues with then-Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn.
Rogers’ current counterpart, Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, said that disagreements have always been handled with respect.
“If I were a cigar smoker and if I drank Kentucky bourbon, it would’ve been much easier to work out some of our differences,” Lowey said.
But some of the most pronounced praise came from retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, the current ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations panel.
“I wasn’t an appropriator in the House. I was on the Energy and Commerce Committee. So I was Dingellized, and spent 10 years with John Dingell before I went to the Senate,” Mikulski said, referring to the legendary longtime chairman.
Mikulski told the story of how she was tapped to be Appropriations chairwoman following the passing of Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, just as there was a need for government funding and supplemental assistance in response to Superstorm Sandy. She explained how she and Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., crossed the Capitol to visit with Rogers.
“We walked over, but little did I know that I was walking back into a smoke-filled room,” Mikulski said. “I was literally flabbergasted, but you know what? I developed an affection for cigar smoke and smoke-filled rooms, and great affection for Hal Rogers.”