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Richard Shelby Officially in as Senate Appropriations Chairman

GOP colleagues ratify powerful committee's vote

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., is the new chairman of the Appropriations Committee, replacing Thad Cochran. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., is the new chairman of the Appropriations Committee, replacing Thad Cochran. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Republicans officially chose Sen. Richard C. Shelby as Appropriations chairman on Tuesday after his fellow Republicans ratified the Committee’s Monday evening vote during a closed-door lunch.

David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., confirmed the Alabama Republican’s selection, as well as the approval of Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., as the new Rules chairman, replacing Shelby.

A floor resolution reorganizing the Appropriations panel was expected on the floor later on Tuesday, which aides said would likely be adopted by unanimous consent.

Shelby is taking over the 31-member panel as well as its Defense subcommittee following Sen. Thad Cochran’s resignation on April 1 due to ongoing health issues.

Shelby’s move from the Commerce-Science-Justice subcommittee to the Defense panel, led to a bit of musical chairs on the Appropriations committee. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., left Military Construction-VA for Commerce-Justice-Science. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., left Homeland Security for Military Construction-VA. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., left Financial Services for Homeland Security. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. left Legislative Branch for Financial Services. And Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., became Legislative Branch chairman.

The new slate of subcommittee chairmanships, including those that did not shift from before Cochran’s retirement, is as follows:

Agriculture — John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Commerce-Justice-Science — Moran (previously Shelby)

Defense — Shelby (previously Cochran)

Energy-Water — Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Financial Services — Lankford (previously Capito)

Homeland Security — Capito (previously Boozman)

Interior-Environment — Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska

Labor-HHS-Education — Blunt

Legislative Branch — Daines (previously Lankford)

Military Construction-VA — Boozman (previously Moran)

Senate-Foreign Operations — Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Transportation-HUD — Susan Collins, R-Maine

Shelby also said Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., would be the newest GOP Appropriations member, taking the slot left open by Cochran’s resignation. Hyde-Smith will face challenges in Mississippi’s free-for-all special election on Nov. 6 from Republican state Senator Chris McDaniel, who narrowly lost to Cochran in the 2014 Senate primaries, and Democrat Mike Espy, a former House member and Agriculture Secretary under President Bill Clinton.

The reorganization took place just before the 12 subcommittees will launch into hearings on the fiscal 2019 spending bills. Once those are complete, the committee will begin writing and marking up the fiscal 2019 spending bills, which are supposed to be completed before Oct. 1.

With only six months between now and then, Congress will likely need a continuing resolution to keep the government funded into the new fiscal year. That stopgap spending bill will likely last until December, allowing both parties to know the midterm election results before completing work during a lame duck session.

Attempts to complete all 12 spending bills in a timelier manner this year will be aided by appropriators having their toplines for discretionary spending at the beginning.

The spending agreement reached in February that increased spending for fiscal 2018 also set the spending levels for fiscal 2019. The capped amount of defense discretionary spending will increase from $629 billion to $647 billion, and the nondefense discretionary spending cap will rise from $579 billion to $597 billion — for a total of $18 billion more in each category. Shelby will be responsible for determining how exactly that is divided between the spending bills.

Appropriators may also be able to avoid having all of their spending bills lumped into one massive omnibus spending package this year. President Donald Trump was frustrated by the process as well as several of the elements in the fiscal 2018 omnibus, leading him to declare at the bill signing that he “will never sign another bill like this again.”

That could lead Congress to send the president a handful of packages that include three or four bills, often called minibuses. The White House and House Republicans are also considering a “rescissions” measure that would block previously-enacted nondefense funds, but Senate Republican appropriators are decidedly not in favor of that approach.

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