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Prince of Pork Becomes King of Spending Cuts

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers earned a reputation as the prince of pork, but he’s quickly proving that he can embrace the new culture of GOP austerity.

The Kentucky Republican is facing his first major test atop the panel as House Republicans move to cut billions in federal spending in the continuing resolution. Rogers’ task has been complicated by GOP leaders’ decision to bring the measure to the floor under an open process — allowing for hundreds of amendments to be considered. The CR would keep the government funded through Sept. 30.

Although some conservatives questioned whether Rogers would have the stomach to slash spending when he took the gavel, so far he has assuaged their concerns by publicly committing to cuts in the CR. He also has taken the extra step to affirm his commitment to the new anti-spending culture by offering to pare his committee’s own budget by 9 percent for the rest of the year. Other Member offices scaled back budgets by just 5 percent.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio), who successfully led the charge for an additional $26 billion in cuts to the CR, acknowledged appropriators are in uncharted territory as they move to reduce spending.

The measure now contains a total of $100 billion in cuts from President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request. Jordan said he talked to Rogers several times as GOP appropriators worked to craft the final CR language and that he listened to the will of the Conference.

“This is truly amazing to see appropriators coming in and reducing spending,” Jordan said. “I applaud them for doing that and applaud them for listening to the Conference.”

Even-keeled, Rogers has earned high marks from his fellow committee members, even those who did not want him to helm the panel after Republicans won the majority in November.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, who tried to get a waiver so he could continue as chairman this Congress, said Rogers has been cool under pressure.

“He has the toughest job in town, and I think he’s handling it well,” the California Republican said.

Rep. Jack Kingston, who also faced off against Rogers for the chairmanship in December, said Rogers has “done a great job” settling into his new role.

“He responded to the leadership’s prorated number of $58 billion and came up with a good bill. Yet when the Conference overruled that number, he was flexible enough to say, ‘OK, let’s go back and get it up to $100 billion,’” Kingston said.

The Georgia Republican said Rogers “never flinched but shifted gears in a different direction and accommodated the Conference,” adding that finding $26 billion in new cuts in the CR was “no small task.”

“He’s shown that he’s nimble and has the work ethic to get it done,” he said. “This process is no easy task.”

That’s particularly true for Rogers, who over his tenure on the Appropriations panel has gained a reputation for his love of earmarks. The 30-year House veteran won the gavel after he promised to fulfill the GOP pledge to ban the practice and slash federal spending.

Moves like that have endeared Rogers to GOP leaders, who have told rank-and-file Members to look to him for guidance on how to come down on most amendments to the CR.

Rogers’ style is markedly different from his predecessor, former Rep. David Obey. The Wisconsin Democrat had a reputation as a fierce negotiator and a master of the backroom deal. Although Obey showed deference to his cardinals, he kept a tight hold on the committee.

One GOP aide who worked with Obey noted that the former chairman would never have agreed to a floor process with hundreds of amendments. “He would have said, ‘I’m the chairman and that’s what we have a Rules Committee for,’” the aide said.

Rogers has shown he’s willing to share the authority, Republicans said. For instance, while he managed the initial general debate on the CR, he allowed his subcommittee chairmen to manage the floor when items came up under their jurisdiction.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, said that while Rogers has done a good job of working with the committee’s senior members, “He wants us to be leaders, to run our subcommittees well and be in charge of our pieces on the floor.”

Rep. Mike Simpson, another cardinal, said the process has gone fairly smoothly, even taking into account an incident Tuesday night when Progressive Caucus members used a procedural loophole that allowed them to speak indefinitely in five-minute increments.

“If they want to pursue that, fine, we’ll put up with it, and then we’ll eventually get to the amendment process, which we did,” the Idaho Republican said.

Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.

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