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Race to Follow Young at Approps Wide Open

While more than a dozen House panels have changed hands in the past few years, the GOP Conference’s six-year term limit on committee chairmanships will soon yield perhaps the biggest prize of them all — the Appropriations gavel.

Current Chairman Bill Young’s (R) stint atop the committee will end next year, paving the way for a high-profile fight to succeed him. The term limit could also compel the Floridian to retire, opening up a potentially competitive seat.

Although all parties involved emphasized that the Appropriations gavel race is still in the early stages, current betting is that the race will be between Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who are currently third and fourth respectively in panel seniority, assuming that the GOP keeps the majority next year.

Rep. Ralph Regula (Ill.) is second on the roster, and while it is not clear whether he will pursue the top job, several GOP Members and aides suggested he might be too moderate on spending issues to win the position.

None of the three Republicans is interested in talking about the race yet.

Lewis’ office declined to comment, while Regula said, “I’m not even thinking about it or discussing it right now.”

“I really haven’t thought about it. I’m focused on Homeland Security right now,” Rogers said of the newly created Appropriations subcommittee that he chairs.

A race between Lewis and Rogers would match two senior, well-liked lawmakers with different bases of support.

“Both have terrific experience and good institutional knowledge,” said a lobbyist with close ties to House Republicans. “I wouldn’t begin to start handicapping it.”

Lewis has been on Appropriations since 1980 and was part of the more moderate Republican leadership that was ousted in the years leading up to the GOP’s House takeover in 1994. (Then-Rep. Dick Armey (Texas) knocked him out of the Republican Conference chairmanship in 1992.)

Since then Lewis has mostly focused on his Appropriations work. He served as chairman of the subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and independent agencies for six years before taking over the Defense panel in 1999.

That perch has helped him develop a strong coterie of supporters on the Hill, on K Street and among defense contractors. Lewis would also likely have the support of much of the California Republican delegation, which includes allies such as Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter and Rep. Duke Cunningham, an Appropriations member.

Rogers, meanwhile, has been on Appropriations since 1983. He was the top Republican on the subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary for 14 years, then switched to the chairmanship of the Transportation subcommittee in 2001. Earlier this month, the Kentuckian was named chairman of the Homeland Security panel, which was created after Transportation’s nonsecurity functions were shifted away.

Aside from the CJS and Transportation communities, which also include some defense firms, Rogers is seen as having broad support within the tobacco and coal industries.

Rogers also serves as a regional representative on the Republican Steering Committee, which is in charge of handing out panel slots.

Some Republicans said they saw Lewis as more congenial and accommodating in the mold of Young, while Rogers has a slightly sharper, more partisan edge. Rogers is also known for having a closer relationship to Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) than Lewis does.

Rogers started a leadership political action committee in 2002 — HALPAC — that distributed about $300,000 to GOP candidates in the last cycle. Lewis’ committee, the Future Leaders PAC, handed out $400,000.

Meanwhile, the end of Young’s chairmanship has also led to speculation that the 17-term Congressman may exit the House at the close of the 108th Congress.

Young’s office declined to comment for this story, but Republican leadership sources said the lawmaker has not yet tipped his hand to indicate what his future plans will be.

“He’s certainly laying hints,” said one Republican lobbyist, indicating that Young has sent signals to K Street that he is considering leaving at the end of this Congress.

Under one scenario that has been suggested, Young may remain in Congress and take the reigns of the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense, which he previously chaired.

But if Young does retire, the names of several potential candidates have already surfaced in a district that could be competitive.

“If he leaves it’s going to be a tough-fought open-seat contest, with a Republican edge to it,” acknowledged one GOP strategist, noting the party’s strong showing at the polls in Florida last year and President Bush’s presence at the top of the 2004 ballot.

On the Republican side, two former state Senators, Jack Latvala and Don Sullivan, are mentioned for the seat, as is current state Senate Majority Leader Dennis Jones.

Another name floated is that of state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd (R), who lives in Rep. Mike Bilirakis’ (R) neighboring 9th district. Byrd has also indicated that he is considering a Senate bid, although sources close to him have said that now looks to be an unlikely eventuality.

“There has been some speculation that [Byrd] would run for Bilirakis’ seat, but if this opportunity comes up, who knows?” said one Republican operative in Florida, referring to Young’s seat.

Despite being unopposed, Byrd spent more than $400,000 on his re-election campaign last year, leading to speculation that he is boosting his profile for a higher office run. Since becoming Speaker earlier this year, he has faced widespread criticism over the office’s increased spending on public relations, including a 13-member communications staff.

It is not clear yet which Democrats might run for the seat.

Regardless of who runs, Republicans acknowledge there will be a competitive race to succeed Young whenever he vacates the seat.

“Congressman Young has done well in that district for a long time, and frankly that’s a district that he shouldn’t have done well in,” said the Florida GOP operative.

The St. Petersburg-based 10th was one of only three districts in the state that split their tickets between then-Vice President Al Gore (D) and a Republican Congressional candidate in the 2000 election.

While the district was improved for Republicans during last cycle’s redistricting, on paper it still retains a Democratic edge in presidential elections. Bush would have garnered 47 percent in the redrawn district, 3 points better than his performance in the old 10th territory. Young won with 76 percent in 2000 and was unopposed for re-election last year.

While the prospect of returning to backbencher status has led most outgoing chairmen to retire in recent years, a handful of Members have stayed in Congress after the completion of their terms.

In 2000, the first year that term limits on GOP committee chairman came due, four outgoing chairmen retired, including then-Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer (R-Texas) and then-Commerce Chairman Tom Bliley (R-Va.). Former Transportation Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) resigned his seat at the beginning of the 107th Congress after failing to get a waiver to remain as chairman.

Last cycle, two chairmen announced their retirement at the end of their terms — Bob Stump (R-Ariz.) and Jim Hansen (R-Utah), who chaired the Armed Services and Resources panels, respectively.

Still, a handful of former chairman have continued to serve as subcommittee chairmen after leaving their full-panel gavels behind.

Reps. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.) are currently subcommittee chairmen, after serving as chairmen of the Banking (now called Financial Services) and Government Reform panels, respectively.

Former Rep. Ben Gilman (R-N.Y.), who remained in Congress after his tenure as International Relations chairman ended in 2001, retired at the end of the last Congress after his seat was eliminated during redistricting.