Marcy Kaptur, Nita Lowey Seek to Fill Top Democratic Appropriations Spot

Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:24pm

Updated: 3:52 p.m.

The retirement of House Appropriations ranking member Norm Dicks (Wash.) opens up the top Democratic slot on the panel, and already the first hopefuls have stepped forward to fill it.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the most senior Appropriations Democrat behind Dicks, said she will seek the gavel if she wins her primary against Rep. Dennis Kucinich on Tuesday.

In an interview, the Ohioan was quick to state how good her seniority on the committee could be for Ohio.

“For us, this is an extraordinarily important committee and an extremely important opportunity to use the full energy of the federal government to put our people back to work,” she said. “It will be my intention to give my full attention to this after we win the primary next week.”

Kaptur would be the first woman to hold the top Appropriations Committee seat from either party. But she already has competition for that designation.

A source close to Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the fourth-most-senior Democrat on the panel, said she will make a play for the gavel. Lowey has previously turned down the opportunity for higher office, partly to keep her seniority on the Appropriations Committee.  

“Seniority is obviously a consideration, but it’s not only the consideration,” the source said. “She’s ideologically at the center of the Caucus.”

Kaptur said she has not spoken with Lowey about the matter, but sources close to both women say they have been making calls to leadership and ranking members to gain support.

Kaptur is more of a centrist than many in Democratic leadership. She was notably one of the last Democratic holdouts on the health care reform bill. Lowey was chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2002 campaigns and has been a subcommittee chairwoman.

But Kaptur she said ideology should not matter and noted that she helped campaign for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in her very first race in California.

“I think that we’ve both shown an ability to work with all Members regardless of our politics,” she said.

But Dicks’ retirement opens up the possibility that Pelosi or Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) could become the top Democratic appropriator. That would clear the way for younger Members of the Democratic Caucus to step into leadership next year.

Lowey joined the panel in 1993. But because Members who enter leadership retain their seniority on committees they previously served, both Pelosi and Hoyer outrank her. Taking that into consideration, Hoyer would be the most-senior Democratic appropriator behind Dicks.

The Maryland Democrat first joined the committee during the 98th Congress in 1983 and served through 2007. Hoyer, however, is not interested in the position, spokeswoman Katie Grant said.

“Mr. Hoyer is not going to be the Appropriations chair, he’s staying where he is,” she said in an email.

Kaptur joined the committee in 1989. Pelosi became an appropriator in 1991, which puts her in a tie with Rep. Peter Visclosky (Ind.) as third-most-senior Democrat on the panel.

A senior Democratic aide indicated Pelosi may have little interest in the chairmanship and declined to offer insight into whom she may endorse. “First off, we will win the majority, so she will be Speaker,” the aide said. “Caucus will determine the chair of the committee.”

Rep. Jim Moran (Va.), who joined the committee in 1993, will consider running for the chairmanship, according to his office.

“It’s a tall order to find the right person to fill Norm’s shoes, but Mr. Moran is going to give it serious consideration,” his chief of staff, Austin Durrer, said in an email.

Another possibility for Moran is to seek the chairmanship of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which Dicks also holds.

And Rep. Chaka Fattah, who, despite being low on the leadership ladder, took on Dicks for the top spot last year, left open the possibility that he would run again to be the first African-American to be a party’s top appropriator.

“This is Norm Dicks’ day and he deserves the attention and positive reflection of his colleagues,” the Pennsylvanian said in a statement. “The focus of every Democrat should be on winning back the House. Speculation on my potential interest can wait for another day.”