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House Gives Senate Final Approps Plan

The House GOP leadership presented Senate appropriators today with a take-it-or-leave-it proposal to reduce the number of Appropriations subcommittees from 13 to 10, with only modest changes from the plan they presented the Senate last week.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) passed out copies of the plan to his colleagues this afternoon and is planning to hold a meeting of all Republican committee members tomorrow afternoon to decide whether the Senate panels should mirror the House’s revised makeup.

Cochran did not immediately pass judgment on the plan, saying cryptically, “It’s their proposal. I wish I could defend it.”

Cochran indicated that House leaders planned to move forward with their plan whether or not the Senate followed suit.

While Senate Republican appropriators said they had yet to fully review the proposal, initial reaction was cool to the plan, which would eliminate the District of Columbia, legislative branch and Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and independent agencies subcommittees. The VA-HUD panel’s enormous and varied jurisdiction would be widely spread among the remaining committees.

“Anything they do Senators aren’t going to like,” said Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) of the House.

But Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the current VA-HUD subcommittee chairman, seemed to think the Senate would be forced to go along with the House on the bulk of the plan

“I think there’s still some room where we can make some different decisions on subcommittees,” said Bond. “We might want to keep D.C. separate.”

If the Senate decides to mirror the House, the biggest Senate GOP loser would likely be Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) who currently chairs the military construction subcommittee. Because Bond would be ousted and forced to choose another subcommittee chairmanship, Hutchison — as the lowest ranking Appropriations subcommittee chairman — would likely lose her spot to a more senior appropriator.

Another potential battle could brew between Bond and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) who currently chairs the Transportation-Treasury Appropriations subcommittee. Bond is more senior that Shelby and could choose to take over what the House is calling the Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary and Housing subcommittee.

The House proposal would establish 10 subcommittees as follows:

Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, State and Science; Defense; Energy and water; foreign operations; Interior and environment; Labor, Health and Human Services and Education; military quality of life and Veterans Affairs; Homeland Security; and Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary and Housing.

Responding to the concerns of Defense appropriations subcommittee chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the House scaled back plans to transfer several military personnel and intelligence accounts from Defense to the military life panel. The original plan called for about $90 billion in defense accounts to be transferred, while the current plan would transfer just $36 billion in accounts. The accounts to be transferred are Defense health, basic housing allowance accounts from the military personnel accounts, the Defense Department’s environmental accounts, and accounts for “sustainment, repair and modernization.”

But the House did not apparently heed the concerns of Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who also sits on the Appropriations Committee. Craig has opposed merging funding for veterans with any funding for the military.

But that’s exactly what the House plans to do. From VA-HUD, the military life subcommittee would get jurisdiction over the Veterans Affairs Department, the American Battle Monuments Commission, Cemeterial Expenses, Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the Selective Service Commission.

Rather than putting funds for the NASA in the Energy and water subcommittee as originally planned, the House would give control over NASA to the former Commerce-Justice-State panel. That subcommittee would also oversee the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. All three were previously in the VA-HUD subcommittee’s jurisdiction.

A newly retooled Transportation subcommittee would get jurisdiction over the Housing and Urban Development Department, Community Development Financial Institutions, the Federal Consumer Information Center within the Government Services Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the National Credit Union Administration, and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation. All were previously the purview of VA-HUD.

The transportation panel would also oversee the federal judiciary, for which the Commerce-Justice-State panel previously administered funds, as well as spending for the District of Columbia.

From the dismantled VA-HUD panel, the new Interior and environment subcommittee would take over funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Council on Environmental Quality, Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance.

Further, the Labor-HHS subcommittee would take over spending for the Corporation for National and Community Service, known as Americorps, from VA-HUD.

From the current Interior panel, the Energy and water panel would assume responsibilities for the Economic Regulatory Administration, the Energy

Information Administration, the Energy Department’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, the Elk Hills School Land Fund, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves, fossil energy research and development accounts, clean coal technology accounts, energy conservation accounts, alternative fuels production accounts, and the Alaska Gas Pipeline Authorities.

As originally planned, the House would handle funding for the legislative branch at the full committee level.

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