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Alexander and Wasserman Schultz Will Tend to Congress’ Purse Strings

Capitol Hill has a new “mayor” in freshly installed House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., and in the 113th Congress, its budget will be partially in the hands of two new appropriators.

Reps. Rodney Alexander, R-La., and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., have been tapped to serve as chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch.

Most political watchers are likely eyeing other House Appropriations Committee cardinals, as Appropriations subcommittee chairmen are often called, with more interest than those tapped to oversee the smallest and, some argue, the least significant of the annual appropriations bills that fund government operations.

But with the legislative branch spending measure funding all of the operations of Congress — from lawmakers’ allowances to the Architect of the Capitol to the Capitol Police — it matters to all creatures of Capitol Hill just who is stationed at the front lines of their yearly budgets, especially when Republicans during the past two years have cut some line items by unprecedented proportions.

Members, staffers and congressional support agencies will have somewhat of a known commodity in Wasserman Schultz, who was chairwoman of the legislative branch subpanel in the 110th and 111th congresses.

She presided over the subcommittee during a time when a number of agencies were in turmoil and a lawmaker’s consistent engagement was crucial. She threatened to strip the Capitol Police of control of its own budget in early 2010 when a management “miscalculation” resulted in a $5.5 million spending shortfall. And before that, she challenged the agency’s radio upgrade project when costs skyrocketed with little explanation.

Wasserman Schultz was the subcommittee chairwoman during the final phases of construction of the Capitol Visitor Center, the multiyear project that faced a number of logistical and financial hurdles. She was also an advocate for the legislative branch workforce, paying special attention to a case where the AOC had failed to remove asbestos from underground tunnels, resulting in severe illnesses among workers.

If her philosophy back then to fund the “gotta-haves, not the nice-to-haves” is still current today, it might help her establish a positive dynamic with Alexander, who has suggested he will use his role to lead by example in the party’s overall mission to cut spending.

“This is a new year, a new Congress, and with it brings new opportunities to rein in frivolous spending, produce efficient and workable budgets, and to save tax-payer dollars in our own backyard,” Alexander said in a statement Tuesday to CQ Roll Call. “I am eager to begin serving in this new capacity and have the utmost faith that each of the incoming Appropriations Subcommittee Chairs will act with great resolve in the days ahead to help restrain Washington’s purse strings and lessen the damage caused by historic deficits.”

Alexander, a former Democrat who became a Republican in 2004, doesn’t have a reputation for being a partisan firebrand, which also could make for a good working relationship with Wasserman Schultz.

But as the head of the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz is not likely to depart from her party’s position that many Republican-spurred cuts bordered on draconian and are harmful to the institution, such as the House’s decision last year to exclude from its fiscal 2013 legislative branch appropriations bill the necessary funds to continue repairs on the aging Capitol Dome.

Alexander will replace Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., who has been selected to lead the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, while Wasserman Schultz is taking over for Rep. Michael M. Honda, D-Calif.

The Senate has not yet designated appropriators and ranking members to oversee its budget and the joint expenses of Capitol Hill.

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