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Marcy Kaptur Shifts Her Focus to Appropriations Panel

Fresh off her primary victory, Rep. Marcy Kaptur faces another heated battle against fellow Democrats for the party’s top spot on the Appropriations Committee.

The Ohio Democrat is next in line behind retiring ranking member Norm Dicks (Wash.) on the powerful panel, and while the seniority system works in her favor, several colleagues, including Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Jim Moran (Va.), are lining up support to take the top spot next year.

Kaptur defeated Rep. Dennis Kucinich on Tuesday, and in an interview, the veteran lawmaker said she interrupted her campaigning briefly last week to make calls on the Appropriations opening. With her primary behind her, Kaptur said she is turning her focus to the panel’s top spot.

“I’m going to be working on this the rest of the year,” she said.

New York Democrats, though, are eager to regain a top spot on an exclusive committee after Rep. Charlie Rangel’s ouster in the last Congress from the top spot on the Ways and Means Committee.

“Not to disparage anyone, but I think Nita has a little more substance,” one Democratic lawmaker said of Lowey, who ranks behind Kaptur in seniority on the committee. “She’s intelligent. She has the respect of her colleagues. She’s a proven fundraiser for the colleagues. She’s chaired the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee]. She’s helped other Democrats get elected. And you have to look at electability. Nita is a likable person.”

At the moment, the two female lawmakers appear to be the frontrunners, and either could become the top woman to represent her party on the panel. While some fear that a matchup between the two could split women in the Caucus, the Democratic lawmaker noted that Lowey supports abortion rights while Kaptur does not.

Kaptur rebuffed the criticism, however, saying, “As a woman, for me, women’s issues go way beyond” abortion, highlighting her work on pay equity, health care and education.

Moran, a longtime appropriator and the top Democrat on the Subcommittee on the Interior and Environment, has already made calls to colleagues. Spokeswoman Anne Hughes said Moran “has seen how Appropriations was meant to reflect the priorities of the legislative branch and intends to work aggressively to restore the Congress’ prerogative, which requires pursuit of the full committee’s chairmanship.”

Rep. Chaka Fattah challenged Dicks for the ranking member spot last year, even though he is far down the seniority list. The Pennsylvanian is again looking to move up. “Congressman Fattah has had an interest in serving in a leadership position on the Appropriations Committee, and at this time he is exploring all options,” spokeswoman Debra Anderson said.

But Fattah can’t necessarily count on support from fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who generally favor the seniority system. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who did not support Fattah’s first attempt to leapfrog others on the panel, reiterated Wednesday that “I support the seniority system.”

“Seniority is very important to the Democratic Caucus,” the Mississippi Democrat said. “I see no reason why, with the potential opening at Appropriations or any other committee, why the seniority rules should not stand.”

The same goes for Rep. José Serrano, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. He joined the committee in 1991, the same year as Lowey. But because she was added first by the Steering Committee, he is technically fourth in line for the top Democratic spot.

Asked whether he would seek the slot, the New York lawmaker said he would rather stick to the seniority system.

“There’s a pecking order. If that order doesn’t go for one reason or another, then of course,” he said. “It’s really too early to tell, although I support the seniority system strongly.”

Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, will rank seventh on the Appropriations panel after Dicks and retiring Rep. John Olver (Mass.) leave.

Asked who he thinks could be the next Democratic leader on the committee, Pastor said the biggest determination would be what leadership wants.

“I think there’s too many ifs right now,” he said. “It’s just a matter of where the leadership is going to be, if they’re going to give a nod to somebody or open it up.”

Leaders have been mum on the topic. One factor is the relationship between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Kaptur, who have clashed previously, most notably over the health care bill in 2009.

In addition to serving as ranking member of the full committee, Dicks is ranking member of the Subcommittee on Defense. That leaves an opening in that prime spot. Rep. Peter Visclosky is next in line to succeed him and is right behind Kaptur on the full panel, although it’s unclear whether the Indiana Democrat is interested in the top spot.

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