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Approps Revamp Floated

Arguing that the House Appropriations Committee’s current structure is antiquated and unreflective of Republican priorities, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is pushing for a sweeping reorganization of the panel.

DeLay’s proposal, which he first described to his colleagues at last week’s bicameral GOP leadership retreat, calls for a reduction in the number of Appropriations subcommittees from 13 to 10 as well as changes in how different federal agencies are grouped together in spending bills.

Under the current system, argued a Republican leadership aide, “you end up with subcommittees that don’t have a damn thing to do with each other but the result is that you compete for the same money.”

If DeLay’s proposal were adopted — a big if, considering that the Senate will almost certainly have a say over such questions — agencies and departments would be funded only along with other agencies that performed similar functions. So the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, for example, would no longer fall under the same subcommittee.

At the same time, some Cabinet departments would be divided up between several different bills, as agencies across the government begin to be grouped by function rather than department. A spending bill covering science and research, for instance, would include relevant agencies from several different departments.

Whether DeLay’s plan will be adopted is up to the next Appropriations chairman, who has the discretion to organize the committee as he sees fit.

With current Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) having to surrender the gavel due to term limits, GOP Reps. Ralph Regula (Ohio), Jerry Lewis (Calif.) and Hal Rogers (Ky.) are all gunning to replace him.

The House Republican Steering Committee will choose the next chairman after interviewing all three candidates in January. DeLay’s proposal and other ideas for reforming the panel will likely be a prominent subject of discussion during those interviews.

Even if the next chairman is amenable to DeLay’s plan, though, the biggest hurdle will likely be getting the Senate to agree to similar reforms.

While the two chambers’ Appropriations panels are not required to have the same structure, having the House and Senate pass spending bills each year covering drastically different areas of jurisdiction would slow down a process that already moves at a snail’s pace.

DeLay’s proposal has not yet been circulated in the Senate, but some House GOP aides predicted that the other chamber would be unlikely to agree to sweeping reforms, given how difficult it usually is to convince Senators to give up any jurisdiction.

A similar fight played out in 2003, when House Appropriations took the lead in reorganizing itself to deal with the Department of Homeland Security. Eventually, both chambers’ spending panels ended up adopting the same changes, but only after significant resistance from the Senate.

Such turf battles could also arise on the House side this time around if the number of subcommittees actually is reduced, since DeLay’s plan would force three current cardinals to surrender their coveted gavels.

A Republican leadership aide said DeLay explained his plan to his colleagues by arguing that the current Appropriations structure was designed by Democrats to fund Democratic priorities. Under the existing setup, DeLay contended, unrelated agencies are grouped together so that everyone has a stake in boosting funding for the issues they care about.

On the VA-HUD subcommittee, this argument goes, some Members want more money for HUD and some want more money for veterans. In the end, both sides agree to the increases the other side wants, and spending goes up across the board.

DeLay argued that the new system would make it easier to hold the line on spending.

“It makes a difference in whether we have a Congress that’s organized to fund the New Deal or organized in a way to fund a conservative world view,” said a GOP leadership aide.

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