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Cardinals shuffle likely under House Appropriations shake-up

Cole’s promotion could result in key subcommittee chairmanship for Womack

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., gives a tour in the Capitol Rotunda before the House passed the final fiscal 2024 spending package on March 22.
Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., gives a tour in the Capitol Rotunda before the House passed the final fiscal 2024 spending package on March 22. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Tom Cole’s expected ascension to the full Appropriations Committee gavel next week would open up the coveted Transportation-HUD Subcommittee chairmanship, triggering a potential domino effect among the panel’s dozen cardinals, as subcommittee chairs are known.

The early betting among appropriations watchers is that Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., is favored to slide over into Cole’s seat — assuming the GOP conference ratifies the Oklahoma Republican, who is currently running unopposed, next week as full committee chairman.

No decisions have been made and Womack wasn’t commenting on his subcommittee intentions Thursday. But the “T-HUD” panel is an attractive perch.

The subcommittee controls one of the largest annual allocations of discretionary funds, doling out over $100 billion in this fiscal year’s final version enacted last month. The law included $6 billion in home-state earmarks for infrastructure and community development projects, by far the largest source of earmarks of any of the 12 spending bills.

If Womack were to move over to the Transportation-HUD panel, it would open up Financial Services, where Womack currently serves as cardinal. That could be a landing spot for Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., who is expected to vacate the Legislative Branch gavel and pass it to Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., who would be a first-time cardinal.

Generally, any shuffling depends on the willingness of other cardinals to move.

The equation would change if Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala., decides to challenge Cole as he has hinted, and somehow win despite broad backing for Cole. Aderholt, the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, on Wednesday requested that GOP leaders delay the vote next week, but there are no plans to do so, a source familiar with the decision said. 

The House Republican Steering Committee is set to meet Tuesday to vote on the chairmanship, followed by GOP conference ratification the next day. Cole has secured the support of nearly every other subcommittee chairman, with the exception of Aderholt and Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

If Aderholt were to leave Labor-HHS-Education, Harris would be more than happy to take his place; according to sources familiar at the time, Harris had wanted Labor-HHS-Education at the beginning of last year when Republicans were organizing for the 118th Congress. Other, more senior appropriators would likely be interested as well.

The full committee chairman cannot serve as a subcommittee chairman under House Republican Conference rules. The chairman is responsible for proposing a “slate” of  subcommittee chairs, which then must be approved by the Steering Committee.

But the committee chairman usually grants cardinals the subcommittees they want in order of seniority, at least until those members are term-limited out after six years as the top Republican on a subcommittee. 

The current Appropriations Chairwoman, Kay Granger, R-Texas, announced last month that she would be stepping down and into a “chairwoman emeritus” role.

While former full committee chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., has remained a subcommittee chairman and currently leads the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations panel, Granger does not plan on heading a subcommittee this year, a source close to Granger said. 

This will allow Valadao, who represents a district President Joe Biden carried in 2020, to step up into a cardinal role. Valadao’s race is rated Tilt Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

‘Pulling on the rope’

Five current cardinals are ahead of Cole in seniority, and are leading Appropriations subcommittees they are likely to stick with instead of shifting to Transportation-HUD: Rogers; Aderholt; Interior-Environment Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho; Military Construction-VA Chairman John Carter, R-Texas; and Defense Chairman Ken Calvert, R-Calif. 

Next in seniority after Cole is State-Foreign Operations Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who said in a statement that he will be staying with that panel. He would be term-limited out of leading Transportation-HUD, regardless.

Womack said Thursday that he wasn’t commenting at this stage of the process.

“I’m focused on ensuring Congressman Tom Cole becomes the new Chairman of the Appropriations Committee,” Womack said in a statement. “As a team player, I recognize the importance of everyone pulling on the rope in the same direction and that starts at the very top.” 

Energy-Water Chairman Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., is expected to stay with his current role, which oversees the country’s nuclear programs. The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory facility is located in his district, and Fleischmann is the co-chairman of Congress’ Advanced Nuclear Caucus and Fusion Energy Caucus.

Barring the chance to move to Labor-HHS-Education, Harris is another cardinal who is likely happy with his current job. Harris represents a rural Maryland district and likely wants to continue pushing for a pilot program for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that would require benefits only be used to purchase healthy food. He was unsuccessful in getting that program included in the final fiscal 2024 appropriations package. 

Less clear is whether Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Joyce, R-Ohio, would stay in that challenging role or if he would jump ship to the Financial Services panel. Amodei would be expected to shift to either Financial Services or Homeland Security, depending on Joyce. 

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