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Senate Shelves Approps Changes, for Now

Senate Republican appropriators said Tuesday that they are unlikely to make any changes to their committee structure until at least after next week’s Presidents’ Day recess, even as the House Appropriations Committee formally adopted its own controversial reorganization plan to reduce the number of panel subcommittees from 13 to 10.

“I’m open to making changes as soon as we have a consensus,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who noted he would continue to consult with committee members on the best way to preserve as many Senate subcommittees as possible.

With an $82 billion Iraq war supplemental spending bill to deal with for the next few weeks, Cochran has no plans to move forward with any restructuring plan this week, according to Senators and GOP aides.

Cochran also acknowledged that, despite widespread Senate opposition to changing the subcommittee structure, his committee will have to make changes at some point to make the Senate more compatible with the new House alignment.

“I think it’s inevitable that we will have some changes,” Cochran said.

The House’s plan — adopted Tuesday by the House Appropriations Committee on a 36- to-24 vote — eliminated the subcommittees on the District of Columbia; the legislative branch; and Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and independent agencies. The VA-HUD panel’s wide-ranging jurisdiction has been spread among the remaining 10 subcommittees under the House plan.

Senators rejected the plan last week after the House decided to move forward with the proposal with or without the other chamber’s consent. In the meantime, the Senate will continue to operate with 13 subcommittees.

Indeed, endangered Senate VA-HUD subcommittee Chairman Kit Bond (R-Mo.) has scheduled a hearing for his panel on Thursday. Bond has vigorously opposed any Senate effort to dismantle his subcommittee, including a compromise plan offered by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) to break the VA-HUD panel into two entities that could more easily conference with the House.

“The subcommittee has work to do and it’s going to do it. The House’s actions are just not a factor right now,” said Bond spokesman Rob Ostrander.

Still, Senate GOP appropriators will continue trying to figure out the best way to restructure without having to adopt the House’s plan.

“A variety of us are making suggestions to the chairman,” said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Craig said that since the House has formally adopted its plan, it gave the Senate some “certainty” from which to work with on its own organization. Craig said the majority of plans put forward by Senators are similar to Hutchison’s in that they would redistribute the jurisdictions of the 13 subcommittees so that House-Senate conferences would run smoothly.

Meanwhile, talks may still continue between Cochran and House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), though none has been scheduled for this week, according to a Cochran spokeswoman.

The House plan, first proposed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), effectively demotes three former subcommittee chairmen — Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J) and Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.).

During the House panel’s debate Tuesday, Lewis defended the reorganization plan.

“We’ve tried to make reorganizational changes that make sense,” said Lewis.

Lewis also addressed reports that he was simply doing DeLay’s bidding in pushing forward with the restructuring.

“The reorganization plan that is before you is the chairman’s reorganization plan,” he told assembled colleagues.

But ranking member David Obey (D-Wis.) took exception to Lewis’ claim.

“It’s pretty clear to me that the genesis of this was … in the Majority Leader’s office,” said Obey, noting that DeLay held up consideration of the VA-HUD spending bill last year because he felt the committee had not given enough funds to NASA, which is headquartered in DeLay’s Houston district.

House Democratic appropriators worked Tuesday to respond to the Republican reorganization. Democrats met in private session to deal with the blow by making some minor shifts in committee ranking positions.

The abolition of three subcommittees meant Rep. Alan Mollohan (W.Va.) lost his ranking slot on VA-HUD, Rep. Chaka Fattah (Pa.) had to give up his top position on the District of Columbia panel and Rep. Jim Moran (Va.) relinquished the ranking job on the legislative branch subcommittee.

Under the changes approved by the Democratic appropriators Tuesday, Mollohan now takes over the top Democratic slot on the Science, Commerce, State and Justice subcommittee. He replaces the less senior Rep. José Serrano (N.Y.), who now sits at the No. 2 position on that panel.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) will advance to the ranking position on Agriculture. That slot came available when current ranking member Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) relinquished her slot for a seat on the Defense subcommittee.

Full committee ranking member Obey decided to keep his slot as the ranking member on Labor, Health and Human Services. Several Democratic appropriators had hoped Obey would opt out of a subcommittee ranking spot.

Kaptur said she gave up her ranking job on Agriculture for the chance to be the only Democratic female on the powerful Defense subcommittee. She noted that openings on the Defense panel “come once in a decade.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), also an appropriator, said before Tuesday’s appropriations meeting that he “wasn’t sure” why the Republicans were pushing for the subcommittee change.

“There didn’t seem to be any great hue and cry during the election that the problem we had was that there were 13 subcommittees, not 10,” Hoyer quipped. “I don’t know whether any of you heard those comments on the campaign trail. I didn’t.”

The House Democratic Caucus will convene this morning to approve its party’s Appropriations Committee changes.

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