Scramble Begins for GOP Appropriations Seat

Posted January 4, 2008 at 6:17pm

Rep. Roger Wicker’s (R-Miss.) New Year’s Eve appointment to the Senate created an immediate opening on the Appropriations Committee, and a handful of Republicans already have expressed interest in the plum post.

The interested Members are a familiar lot, as it is largely the same group who expressed interest in joining the committee this past May, when embattled Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) relinquished his seat on the panel.

At this point there appears to be no clear favorite to succeed Wicker on the committee.

Three Southern Republicans — Reps. Jo Bonner (Ala.), Henry Brown (S.C.) and Joe Wilson (S.C.) — are vying for Wicker’s seat and will no doubt make a regional argument for keeping it.

However, they face a challenge from National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.), who has informed fellow leaders of his interest in getting the appointment, and Reps. Dave Reichert (Wash.) and Michael Turner (Ohio). Reichert, a former sheriff, is the only Member in the group who is vulnerable to defeat in November, and the assignment could boost his re-election chances.

Regional interests traditionally have played a heavy role in deciding exclusive committee assignments. Ultimately, Rep. Ken Calvert (Calif.) was chosen to fill the Doolittle vacancy, keeping the seat in the California delegation.

The process of selecting Wicker’s replacement will begin when Members return to work the week of Jan. 14. A spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said no timetable has been set for the GOP Steering Committee to make the selection.

“The process won’t begin in earnest until Congress reconvenes next week,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said. “After discussions among Members, the Steering Committee will fill the slot at the earliest practical opportunity.”

Members already are honing their various arguments for the appointment.

Brown spokeswoman Amanda Reynolds said the four-term Congressman will cite his past experience chairing the state House Ways and Means Committee, which also has jurisdiction over spending, as well as his seniority.

Brown currently holds positions on the Transportation and Infrastructure, Resources and Veterans’ Affairs committees.

Wilson is stressing his military background and knowledge of defense issues.

“If given the opportunity, I would bring a personal as well as legislative knowledge of defense issues — my primary focus,” he said in a statement.

Wilson and Brown lobbied to get an Appropriations seat when the Doolittle vacancy occurred, arguing that South Carolina has no GOP representation on any exclusive committee and therefore they are due for an assignment. However, sources suggested that both men are hindered by the fact that they can’t come to a consensus as a delegation and present one candidate for consideration.

Meanwhile, Bonner indicated that his pitch for getting a seat on the committee will focus on his desire for the party to return to its fiscal-discipline roots.

As the House GOP works to rebrand itself and restore its image as the party of smaller, more limited government, Bonner said that seeking the Appropriations seat should not just be “about what I can do for my district.”

He argued that last week’s Iowa Caucus results showed that voters want reform of the status quo in Washington, D.C.

“I really think that anyone who is going after this for the bacon they can bring home or the pork they can bring home to their friends. … I think that’s sending the wrong message at this particular time,” Bonner said in an interview Friday.

He also cited his experience as the chief of staff to then-Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), his predecessor and an Appropriations cardinal.

“No one has worked more closely with the committee, at a time when we were both in the minority and the majority,” Bonner said.

Still, Bonner’s bid could be hurt by the fact that there already is an Alabama Republican, Rep. Robert Aderholt, on the panel.

Reichert also is likely to make a regional argument for the Appropriations post in addition to stressing his background in law enforcement and his political vulnerability.

The Pacific Northwest — Oregon, Washington and Alaska — currently has no GOP representation on the panel and has not had any since then-Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) left Congress in 2004.

Cole, in his third term, certainly is the most intriguing name among those interested in the seat. A seat on the powerful committee likely would help Cole raise money for the cash-strapped NRCC.

Cole currently serves on the Armed Services and Natural Resources committees. Oklahoma lost its lone appropriator from either party when Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) retired in 2006.

There also is a precedent for an NRCC chairman getting a plum committee assignment. Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), Cole’s predecessor at the NRCC, gained a seat on the Ways and Means panel during his tenure leading the GOP’s election efforts.

Still, some Republicans privately question whether Cole already has enough on his plate preparing for the November elections and whether it might be better for him to wait and seek a seat on the panel at the end of this Congress, when there will be several vacancies.

Next Congress, Republicans are faced with filling at least four seats on the powerful panel due to retirements — the most open seats on the panel in recent memory.

Just last week, Rep. John Peterson (R-Pa.) became the latest appropriator to announce he is leaving.

Also leaving are GOP Reps. Ralph Regula (Ohio), David Hobson (Ohio) and Ray LaHood (Ill.). Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), a former Appropriations chairman, is another retirement possibility.

With Boehner holding the most votes on the Steering Committee, there is speculation about whether Ohio will try to lay claim to both of their current seats and keep them in the delegation.

Ohio Republican Reps. Steven LaTourette and Turner — if he doesn’t get the Wicker appointment — are considered to be in the mix for the seats. At least one of the men is likely to get an appointment to the panel for the next Congress.

Peterson is currently the only Pennsylvania Republican on Appropriations and the Keystone State delegation will no doubt make a play to keep that seat in their hands.

Rep. Jim Gerlach, a perennial target for Democrats who represents a swing seat in suburban Philadelphia, could be a candidate to replace Peterson. The assignment would help shore him up politically back home and would also please moderate members of the GOP Conference.

Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.) and other Pennsylvania Republicans also may have interest in an Appropriations seat.

The seat now occupied by LaHood appears to be the biggest wild card of all and the list of Members interested in it is likely to be long.

It is viewed as unlikely that it will remain in the Illinois delegation, though Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) could make a play for it.

The state’s clout has been heavily diminished since the Democratic takeover at the beginning of the 110th Congress and the loss of power of Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) already has a seat on the committee.

Westerners have long wanted more representation on the panel and any number of Members from that bloc could seek the assignment.

The Members who do not get the Wicker seat also will be in the mix for the four vacancies when the Steering Committee meets to make the appointments after the November elections.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.