House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) has reached out to Republican appropriators as part of a strategy to smooth the way for this year’s spending bills, meeting with members of the panel’s minority last week to solicit their input.
Obey wants to get Republicans on board with a bipartisan strategy on earmarks and on subcommittee allocations, which bodes well for getting the bills through the House quickly, Republicans said.
“Reaching out to us is very positive,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee on Agriculture. Kingston said if Obey follows through, any remaining bitterness from the partisan fights over the continuing resolution funding the government and the Democrats’ Iraq War supplemental would disappear.
“Our attitude is all is forgotten,” Kingston said. “As a practical matter, let’s forget the CR, let’s forget the supp. If we are included from this point forward we can have a productive relationship.”
“It’s no different than when I was chairman the last time,” Obey said, referring to 1993 and 1994. “I sat down with the Republican ranking member back then and we agreed on” subcommittee allocations.
But Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the Appropriations ranking member, cautioned that he isn’t yet sold on the charm offensive.
Lewis said it was a “helpful initial meeting” but complained about being shut out on the CR and the Iraq supplemental. “We have an awful long ways to go,” he said shortly after the supplemental conference committee met Monday.
The meeting was “mostly about earmarks,” Kingston said, with Obey talking strategy about ensuring that House Members get their earmarks this year and aren’t taken advantage of by the Senate, although Obey also asked for input on subcommittee allocations as well.
Kingston said Obey wanted everyone on the committee on the same page on earmarks, warning that internal disagreements over earmark plans could cause trouble and put them at a disadvantage with the Senate.
“Then it’s possible we won’t have any earmarks at all,” Kingston said.
That’s a doubly powerful warning this year given that Democrats’ fiscal 2007 CR included no new earmarks, and appropriators don’t want a repeat performance.
“I think that Dave Obey is trying to make this as painless as possible,” said Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), the ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense and a former full committee chairman, after the meeting with Obey. Although Appropriations tends to be more bipartisan than most other committees, Kingston said Republican appropriators had been frustrated with their own leaders, who frequently “usurped” bills and doled out earmarks based on politics, particularly in election years. “That stuff never saves anybody,” Kingston said, yet it always seems to happen.
Obey said he’s uncertain if House leadership will allow him to negotiate the allocations with the Republicans this time. “Even if we can’t get all the way there, I want to know their concerns,” he said. “I don’t see the appropriators as Democrats or Republicans.”
Obey added that he wants to build strong bipartisan majorities for the bills. “The only thing that lasts in government is something that is supported by a bipartisan majority,” he said.
Obey has vowed to cut the number and size of earmarks in half this year, and appropriators also have a new set of earmark disclosure and ethics hoops to jump through.
Working with Republicans from the start this year could result in large majorities for each of the spending bills and also make it harder for President Bush to veto the bills.