Rep. Marcy Kaptur is circulating what her office is billing as a “comprehensive vision document” in her bid to become the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
The two-page document outlines some of the changes Kaptur would make if elected to succeed retiring chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., including bringing back earmarks for local projects in spending bills.
Kaptur, D-Ohio, told CQ Roll Call on Monday that if she’s selected chairwoman, she'd go along if the caucus decides to remove the so-called Hyde amendment from the annual Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill.
"That is authorizing on an appropriations bill and I do not want it on our bill," Kaptur said. "We’ll see where we are after the new Congress is sworn in and see what the will of the caucus is and I’ll carry that forward. …I’m not going to create needless controversy but I want clean bills."
The Hyde amendment prevents federal funding from going to abortion access with limited exceptions for rape, incest or the woman’s life.
Progressive Democrats have called for removing the language for years, but the issue has gained more traction since last year as Democratic presidential candidates pledged to undo Hyde. That includes the eventual nominee and onetime Hyde amendment supporter, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Hyde opponents also cited social justice issues and systemic racism. They argue Hyde disproportionately targets low-income women of color, who are more likely to rely on federal assistance for health care coverage.
Kaptur in the past has been criticized for some votes that abortion rights advocates didn't agree with, but she's had a 100 percent "score" from NARAL Pro-Choice America since 2017. In 2012, Kaptur's stance on abortion rights was widely considered one of the reasons she lost out to Lowey in the race to be the top Appropriations Democrat, despite having more seniority than the retiring New Yorker at the time.
The Hyde amendment, offered by GOP Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, first became law as a policy rider on the fiscal 1977 spending bill for what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Kaptur said it was time to get rid of such legislating during the appropriations process.
Kaptur is competing for the top Democratic position on the spending panel against Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. Both have said they support removing the Hyde amendment. House Democrats are expected to vote the week of Nov. 30 to determine contested committee leadership races.
Kaptur is the last of the three candidates to release a proposal introducing Democrats to how the Appropriations Committee would change under her leadership. DeLauro and Wasserman Schultz both released their pitches in September.
Kaptur, who chairs the Energy-Water subcommittee, has the most seniority on the panel, but unlike the Senate where seniority is the primary driver for committee leadership positions, the House has a slightly more competitive process — as Kaptur knows well from her 2012 experience.
If Democrats elect Kaptur as their top appropriator for the 117th Congress, she plans to focus her efforts on recovery from the pandemic.
“I’ve actually in my career weathered four massive recessions,” she said. “I believe that I bring the most knowledge to the table in terms of how one reboots the private economy and how we use government programs effectively to achieve faster growth.”
Kaptur hopes to work across various subcommittees to address funding issues that don’t fit neatly into one of the dozen annual spending bills. Among those on her list are funding for women’s issues, racial justice, mental health and immigration.
“I want to have some cross-subcommittee dialogue to develop more impactful funding in whatever the caucus chooses as the top priority for 2021 and 2022,” she said, adding that “with gigantic deficits we’re going to have to use our dollars very carefully.”
And while Kaptur’s promoting her ability to reach across the aisle to the panels’ Republicans, she’s also “praying” for a Democratic Senate and a President Joe Biden.
While Kaptur is the last of the three candidates to officially outline her proposals for the Appropriations Committee in a letter, she’s been talking one-on-one and releasing letters since she formally announced her bid in a “Dear Colleague” letter in February.
In the months since then others have advocated for Kaptur, including Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. In September, they wrote that “as proud progressives” they were supporting Kaptur’s run for the Appropriations gavel.
Tlaib is part of the four-member "squad" of freshman Democrats who have made a name for themselves attempting to tilt their caucus to the left on a range of policy matters.
“Marcy Kaptur has progressive populism in every ideal she has ever championed. Her efforts represent the will and desire of average Americans in their struggle to keep up with daunting economic and social forces that leave millions of people behind,” they wrote.
“Marcy hails from an economically, racially and ethnically diverse district that ranks #405 of #441 in terms of median income,” they wrote. “Marcy has devoted her service to deciphering means to restore hope and opportunity to people and places in our nation that have been unjustly left behind.”
In the letter Kaptur sent late last week, she told Democrats she would help create an “enhanced Member support system” to help lawmakers and their staff navigate the annual process. She promised to “target federal dollars to empower and support the “needs of America’s diverse communities, with focus on people and places left behind.”
Kaptur reiterated her support for bringing back earmarks with controls and transparency mechanisms, a practice that is increasingly likely to return in the House next year. There are several proposals circulating for how the House could bring back earmarks but the most likely frontrunner comes from the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which released its recommendations in late September.
The bipartisan panel proposed a competitive grant program that would be designed to support projects that have the backing of the communities they would be in. The new form of earmarks would be monitored by an inspector general who would have the power to “claw back any of the money that might not be utilized properly or as it was proposed by the local community.”