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Cochran, Lewis Agree to Build on House’s Appropriations Plan Together

The House and Senate Appropriations chairmen have decided to work together to restructure their respective committees, rather than having the House force-feed the Senate a plan opposed by the majority of that chamber’s appropriators.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) emerged from a morning meeting today and announced they would have talks over the next week to sort out the details of a House GOP leadership-generated proposal to eliminate three subcommittees and reshuffle the remaining 10 panels.

“The House has agreed to negotiate. I think that’s progress,” said Cochran. “We’ll work out something that is an improvement in the Appropriations Committee.”

Lewis said the two chambers do not necessarily need to match each other’s setup exactly, but said the week-long negotiation would hopefully make sure that bicameral conference committees could operate with ease in passing the annual spending bills.

“There are lots of opportunities to rethink,” Lewis said.

Cochran said he had floated a couple of alternative proposals during today’s meeting, but did not elaborate on the substance of those ideas, stating only: “Nothing has been taken off the table.”

Still, Lewis acknowledged that whatever he and Cochran come up with may need to be revisited as the panels work out the kinks of what could be the biggest reorganization of the Appropriations panels since the 1970s.

“What we do in a week won’t be perfect, Lewis said.

He said the House Republican Steering Committee would still move forward today on choosing 10 Appropriations subcommittee chairmen, or cardinals. But given the fact that the exact subcommittees have yet to be named or set up, the cardinals will likely not know until next week what panel they will head.

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans categorically rejected the House’s initial proposal to do away with subcommittees on the District of Columbia; the legislative branch; and Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and independent agencies.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — the brains behind the plan — has said the Appropriations panel needs to be streamlined to cut down on jurisdictional confusion and the prevalence of omnibus spending bills at the end of the year.

Under the original House plan, D.C. funding would be folded into the existing Interior subcommittee, while the VA-HUD panel’s jurisdiction would be distributed widely among other panels. In particular, veterans funding would be merged into a new “military life” subcommittee dealing with military construction and personnel issues.

Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who also sits on the Appropriations Committee, said Senators especially objected to the notion of placing veterans spending with military priorities in a time of war.

“It’s going to be difficult meeting veterans’ needs anyway with a tight budget. So you don’t want to throw them in conflict with [troop needs],” Craig said.

He continued: “That’s why over the years we’ve separated these types of jurisdiction.”

Lewis seemed to believe that his chamber’s plan to handle the legislative branch spending bill at the full committee level could coexist with a separate Senate subcommittee charged with funding Congress’ operations, if the Senate wanted to keep its current panel intact. That could mean that the Senate would have 11 subcommittees while the House could have 10.

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