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Meet the key appropriations players of the fall

List includes budget war veterans as well as relative newcomers

Eric Ueland has been the White House legislative affairs chief since June. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Eric Ueland has been the White House legislative affairs chief since June. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It’s the behind-the-scenes work of top legislative aides that makes the Capitol Hill machinery work, and that’s never truer than when lawmakers are trying to hash out spending bills as Congress and the White House will be focused on this fall and winter.

After initial decisions by Republican and Democratic clerks — the top staffers on the Appropriations subcommittees — full committee staff will step in to help work out any remaining issues. Leadership staff will be on hand to address the most intractable disagreements and questions about what legislation can ride with the spending bills, and to make sure the measures have enough votes to pass.

Top White House officials will be integral to the discussions as well. The effort will bring together budget war veterans as well as relative newcomers. The players will include appropriations experts and other staff who specialize in issues such as health care and taxes.

Among the key players:

Shalanda Young

Democratic staff director, House Appropriations Committee

The top aide to House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey of New York, Young is a 12-year committee veteran whose work underpinned the House’s success in marking up all 12 fiscal 2020 bills and passing 10 of them. Young is trusted and relied upon by leadership, enhancing her clout. Her challenge will be negotiating bills with the Senate that minimize defections from the most liberal members of the Democratic Caucus.

Anne Marie Chotvacs

Republican staff director, House Appropriations Committee

Though new to the job, Chotvacs has a dozen years of varied experience in appropriations. She served as clerk and staff director of the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee from 2009 to 2016, and previously worked as a staffer for the Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee and others. Chotvacs will help her boss, Kay Granger of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, maximize the leverage she has, as some of the appropriations bills may need GOP support to pass.

Shannon Hines

Republican staff director, Senate Appropriations Committee

Hines has been the committee’s GOP staff director since April 2018 but her tenure with Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the current Appropriations chairman, spans two decades. Shelby describes his top aide as confident, diligent and tough. Hines has the challenge of negotiating appropriations bills that can draw needed support from Democrats without alienating too many conservative GOP senators.

Charles E. Kieffer

Democratic staff director, Senate Appropriations Committee

Few aides can boast Kieffer’s deep policy knowledge and budget experience. He has served three stints as Democratic staff director of the committee — first under Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, and now under ranking member Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. Kieffer worked at the Office of Management and Budget under three presidents — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Byrd once described him as “a marvel of intelligence, wisdom, tact, coolness, and an extraordinary knowledge of appropriations and budget matters.”

Eric Ueland

Director, White House Office of Legislative Affairs

Joining the president as his top liaison to Congress in June, Ueland brings leadership and budget expertise. He served as chief of staff for then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and then as GOP staff director of the Senate Budget Committee. An expert on congressional procedure and rules, Ueland worked on the Trump presidential transition team and later served as director of the State Department’s Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Russell Vought

Acting director, Office of Management and Budget

The acting budget chief works closely with acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, whom Vought served under when Mulvaney was OMB director before moving over to the West Wing. A hard-charging conservative spending hawk, Vought said at a Heritage Foundation event in July that the Trump administration has fought to cut spending on programs that should be left up to the states because “we think it’s inconsistent with the constitutional system that the founders gave us.” The former vice president of Heritage Action is a “conservative first and then a Republican,” he told Washingtonian magazine in 2008 when he served as executive director of the Republican Study Committee.

Jason Yaworske

Associate director for legislative affairs, OMB

Like Vought, Yaworske is an alumnus of Heritage Action, where he served as director of legislative initiatives from 2013 to 2016. He later worked as chief of staff for Warren Davidson, an Ohio Republican who was elected to succeed John A. Boehner when the former speaker retired. Yaworske joined OMB in December. He was heavily engaged in the talks that led to the two-year budget deal setting toplines for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

Dick Meltzer

Policy director, Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Meltzer has been policy director for Pelosi since 2009, during which time he’s seen Democrats’ House majority status swing back and forth. Meltzer has frequently served as Pelosi’s point man for fiscal negotiations and contact with the Senate. He came to the Hill in 1975 to work for Illinois Democratic Rep. Abner Mikva, and also worked as a lobbyist at Ernst & Young.

Wendell Primus

Senior budget and health adviser, Pelosi

A measure of Primus’ reputation is that to many he is simply “Wendell.” An expert on the budget and health care, he was a lead staffer on major initiatives including the 2010 health care law. In 1996, Primus resigned from a post as deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to protest President Bill Clinton’s signing of the welfare overhaul bill. Before that, he was a longtime staffer with the Ways and Means Committee, overseeing production of the authoritative Green Book describing federal entitlement programs, and leading negotiations on the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings budget law.

Scott Raab

Deputy chief of staff for policy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Raab has only been deputy chief of staff since March, but his tenure with McConnell goes back to 1999. In promoting him to deputy chief of staff, McConnell said that Raab for two decades had proved himself to be “a wise counselor and tireless advocate for Kentucky priorities.” Raab keeps a low public profile, but “he knows the senators, he knows the staff, he knows Kentucky and he knows Sen. McConnell,” a former McConnell aide told CQ Roll Call.

Jane Lee

Appropriations and budget policy adviser, McConnell

Lee is a budget expert who has served as program examiner and spokeswoman for George W. Bush’s Office of Management and Budget, budget analyst to then-House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, and policy director for then-House Budget Chairman Tom Price of Georgia. She worked as a senior policy adviser to the Senate Appropriations Committee, and for Senate GOP Whip John Cornyn of Texas. McConnell has described her as “my budget lead, smart, cheerful and determined.”

Gerry Petrella

Policy director, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer

Petrella has worked as Schumer’s policy director since 2017, having earlier served as policy director for the Democratic Policy and Communications Center and before that in a variety of roles with Schumer as well as a private sector stint. A longtime leadership strategist and veteran negotiator, he has frequently represented Schumer in discussions with Senate committees. In 2006 he worked as a campaign coordinator for Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Meghan Taira

Legislative director, Schumer

Taira is a budget and health care expert who has worked for Schumer since 2007, and since 2017 has been point person with Senate Democratic legislative directors. She and Petrella have been given much of the credit for their gains in the recent budget deals and other negotiations. Taira previously worked as a lobbyist for Arnold & Porter and as a consultant for Avalere Health.

Will Dunham

Deputy chief of staff for policy, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Dunham joined McCarthy as policy director in January 2016 and has since served as lead negotiator on policy. He made his mark as a consensus builder, serving as a senior policy adviser and then executive director of the Republican Study Committee. Dunham previously worked for California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock.

Brittan Specht

Budget and appropriations senior policy adviser, McCarthy

Like Dunham, Specht is a veteran of the RSC and McClintock’s office. He served as policy director of the RSC from 2015 to 2017 before joining McCarthy as a senior policy adviser. Earlier, he worked for McClintock for several years, serving as deputy chief of staff and legislative director.

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