LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The man in charge of writing spending bills in the House sounds downright excited for the possibility of fellow Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell becoming Senate majority leader next year.
"I’m very hopeful and anxious that Mitch takes over the majority leader's slot over there so that we can move these bills, and fund the government in a regular way — passing 12 individual bills on the House side and Senate side, then conferencing them in the old-fashioned way," House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers said last week in an interview.
The scenario would play out if McConnell wins his own re-election Tuesday against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republicans pick up the six or more seats needed to flip control.
The two longtime appropriators go back decades and have coordinated on a number of projects, and they would be an even more powerful duo with McConnell running the Senate.
Over the weekend, the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call moved the race to Republican Favored . Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., sounded Saturday like he was expecting a McConnell victory . Rogers has been an active surrogate for McConnell in the depressed coal country of Eastern Kentucky, traveling the region with the Republican leader. He's appearing with McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul at an event in Hazard, Ky., during a "fly around" barnstorming of the commonwealth by the two senators on Monday. That series of events kicked off here in Louisville, where McConnell is based.
"The chairman is a legend in Eastern Kentucky and we were fortunate he could join us for several days of Sen. McConnell's coal country bus tour," said McConnell adviser John Ashbrook.
To wit, a trip through the eastern part of the commonwealth might lead to a drive on the Hal Rogers Parkway or a visit to the Hal Rogers Center in Hazard, which was actually the venue for a campaign visit by former President Bill Clinton for Grimes over the summer.
In a telephone interview with CQ Roll Call, Rogers spoke of cooperation and coordination with McConnell on a slew of regional issues, saying the two had known each other well before arriving in Congress decades ago.
"I've been knowing Mitch for a long time, back into the 60s, 70s really. Of course, I got there a little before he did ... So we’ve had a long friendship and political collaboration over several decades," Rogers said.
A person with the bus tour through coal country said it looked as if the two old-school legislators were feeding off each others' energy when traveling together.
"That would take a catalog," Rogers said of projects he’s helped advance with McConnell. "But I remember when we were fighting the tobacco, smoking wars, and the support of the early tobacco support program. When that was collapsing, he took the lead on the Senate side of trying to find a solution to the tobacco price support problem that our farmers were suffering from, and led the way toward the buyout of the tobacco allotment program. I helped on the House side and of course he led the fight over in the Senate. But then there’s any number of projects that we've collaborated on. One of the most recent was the near collapse of the Wolf Creek dam which forms Lake Cumberland in my region."
Rogers said it took seven years to get funding for the dam project, which was in dire need of repair . The House chairman also stressed joint efforts on funding for the Appalachian Regional Commission and efforts to rebuff the "war on coal."
That's been a theme for McConnell and Rogers throughout the campaign — blasting President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency for proposed regulations limiting carbon emissions from power plants. McConnell's plan to insist on votes on appropriations policy riders at the Senate committee level contributed to the fiscal 2015 process collapsing, with Democrats unwilling to allow the votes (which could have easily lost).
The two lawmakers have appeared both on Capitol Hill and in Kentucky with Jimmy Rose, a former NBC America's Got Talent finalist who performs an appropriately named original song called "Coal Keeps The Light On."
The spending bills that have moved through the GOP-led House contained a slew of policy riders and spending limitations, and it would be hard to imagine a scenario in which bills drafted with Republicans in control on both sides of the Capitol wouldn't force Obama to decide whether to accept limits on administration authority that he's avoided with a Democratic-led Senate.
"Of course, in the bills that the House passed, we included a number of riders and spending changes that we would have liked to have seen enacted into law, but the Senate didn't do it," Rogers said. "So, I look forward to the time when the spending policies that we write into these bills — including riders — can get their due day in court on the Senate side under his leadership."
Congress hasn't advanced every standalone spending bill through to enactment before the end of the fiscal year since fiscal 1995, but optimistic about a Republican-led Senate and a semblance of regular order, Rogers is pushing for a 12-bill omnibus spending measure to close the books on the current year, rather than punting into the new Congress as suggested by some conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. "We've passed 7 of the 12 bills in the House, around 400+ amendments," Rogers said. "We sent those bills to the Senate and they went in Harry Reid's waste bucket, preventing his senators from casting votes and keeping the president from having to veto some of these bills."
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