Lowey’s would-be successors use spending bills to make their cases

DeLauro, Kaptur, Wasserman Schultz vie for top Democrat spot on House Appropriations

From left, Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Marcy Kaptur and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are vying to succeed Nita M. Lowey as top Democrat on House Appropriations. (Tom Williams/Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photos)
From left, Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Marcy Kaptur and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are vying to succeed Nita M. Lowey as top Democrat on House Appropriations. (Tom Williams/Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photos)
Posted July 23, 2020 at 6:30am

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey’s farewell speech to panel colleagues had a message for those vying to succeed her as the committee’s top Democrat — there are Republicans, there are Democrats and then there are appropriators.

The decades-old adage places the committee above politics and has long been a source of pride for its members, even if it hasn’t always been true.

“My parting request to you is this: Do not succumb to the pervasive partisanship that permeates what can feel like all aspects of our professional and sometimes our personal lives,” Lowey, a New York Democrat, said during the panel’s final fiscal 2021 markup, the last of her congressional career dating back to 1989. “Defend our constitutional prerogatives against executive overreach regardless of who occupies the White House or the speaker’s office.”

The race to become the Appropriations Committee’s next top Democrat includes Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Marcy Kaptur and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, though it’s possible there may be late entrants to the campaign.

Much has changed since the candidates declared following Lowey’s retirement announcement last year.

The country’s health care sector and economy was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, former Vice President Joe Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, police killings led the country to begin addressing systemic racism following massive protests, and the politics of the House Democratic Caucus continued to inch left on key funding issues.

Much more will change during the coming months as the nation decides control of the House, Senate and White House.

But barring a shift in the Senate’s filibuster rules or an unrealistic Democratic electoral landslide, Lowey’s successor will still need to work with Republicans to get must-pass spending bills done and avoid government shutdowns.

In addition to touting their partisan bona fides during last week’s markups, the three declared candidates repeatedly championed their strong working relationships with Republican ranking members on their respective subcommittees.

‘Special activities’

The candidates are predominantly campaigning behind the scenes, but each put her relationship with Lowey on display during the past two weeks as the panel held marathon markup sessions on the dozen annual funding bills.

DeLauro’s particularly close friendship with Lowey and Speaker Nancy Pelosi was touted more than once during subcommittee and full committee markups.

“We were known as the DeLoSis — DeLauro, Lowey and Pelosi. Oftentimes they would see us on the floor and say, ‘What are they scheming?’ And we were scheming,” DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said last week while leading the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee markup.

“The DeLoSi team, as we were known at the time, was up to all kinds of special activities, which we won’t share here today,” Lowey added.

Wasserman Schultz also tied herself to Lowey, saying she could think of no other lawmaker who has mentored her more.

While marking up the Military Construction-VA bill, which she manages, the Florida Democrat added: “I will say that, as a Jewish woman, it has been one of the highlights of my career to be able to serve with you, to see you ascend to the position of chair in this committee, as its first woman. … That means so much. It shows other young people in our community that anything is truly possible.”

Kaptur, who holds the most seniority on the committee and lost a campaign to become the top Democrat to Lowey ahead of the 113th Congress, also cited the chairwoman’s leadership, though in more subdued terms.

“We thank you for your abiding friendship, and we thank you for your service to our country including your presence here today,” the Ohio lawmaker, who chairs the Energy-Water subcommittee, said during that bill’s subcommittee markup.

Progressive priorities

It’ll take more than a close relationship with Lowey to get the votes needed to become one of the four corners of the Appropriations committees, which is why the candidates are rolling out proposals on core Democratic issues.

DeLauro has pledged to eliminate the Hyde amendment, a spending bill rider dating back to 1976 that prevents federal funding for abortions with limited exceptions. Critics say it unfairly targets low-income women because of their reliance on public health programs like Medicaid.

The issue is one of the many social justice-related funding priorities for progressive Democrats such as Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass., who said abortion provisions such as the Hyde amendment are “blatantly racist and perpetuate systems of oppression and white supremacy that target people of color — especially Black people — and their bodily autonomy.”

But Democratic leaders have said it’s unrealistic to try to pass the Labor-HHS-Education bill without Hyde as long as a GOP Senate wouldn’t accept it and a Republican president would veto it. That could change if Democrats sweep on Election Day.

“We are in a moment to reckon with the norm, with tradition and view it through the lens of racial justice,” DeLauro said. “So although the bill includes the Hyde amendment this year, let me be clear, we will fight to remove the Hyde amendment.”

Wasserman Schultz cited provisions in her bill blocking the Trump administration from transferring military construction dollars for the border wall — an issue packed with symbolism for Democrats who view the wall project as racist and Trump’s decision to divert funding as unconstitutional. She also added language to the spending bill that would prevent federal funding from going to military installations named for Confederate officers.

Wasserman Schultz separately pledged to create an advisory panel within the House Appropriations Committee to address disparities in federal funding that she says harms minority communities. She said she’d seek to steer money “towards communities that have suffered the deepest historical inequities and injustices.”

Provisions in Kaptur’s typically congenial Energy-Water bill, however, might have the most long-term geopolitical impact by preventing the White House from proceeding with what she calls a “dangerous plan” to resume nuclear weapons testing with live explosive yields for the first time in nearly 30 years. Kaptur also cited numerous spending priorities in the bill that would help to address climate change.

Campaign dollars

Fundraising and helping vulnerable Democrats keep their seats — thereby allowing the party to remain in the majority — is another crucial benchmark for prospective committee leaders.

Wasserman Schultz, by far the most junior panel member of the three, has taken in the most cash — about $2.1 million through her campaign committee and PAC, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.

Including money her campaign committee raised that was earmarked by donors for other campaigns, FEC filings show Wasserman Schultz has funneled around $580,000 into Democratic campaigns this cycle — also the most of the three. And she’s got another $834,000 on hand to disburse as that vote draws nearer. 

Wasserman Schultz’s campaign told CQ Roll Call her overall fundraising efforts on behalf of House Democrats and candidates, including contributions from her own coffers, total $1.26 million so far this cycle. And she’s separately raised $724,500 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Based on a review of FEC filings, DeLauro has raised nearly $1.5 million through her campaign committee and PAC this cycle, while distributing around $525,000 of that haul to various Democratic campaigns and causes. Including money she’s raised on others’ behalf, DeLauro’s campaign said she’s brought in roughly $900,000 so far for Democratic candidates.

She’s been stepping up her giving of late, with $86,000 distributed in June alone through her leadership PAC to about 60 House campaigns, marking the PAC’s biggest giving month of the cycle. But DeLauro drained her coffers in doing so, and had just $307,000 left on June 30, including only $19,500 in her PAC.

Kaptur, whose campaign couldn’t be reached for comment, is last in the money chase with about $870,000 raised, according to FEC filings, and roughly $465,000 distributed to other Democrats. But she’s got the most money in the bank at $873,000 for a possible late spending spree to help win over colleagues.