The nine new Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee are united in espousing the new GOP appropriations mantra: Make deep cuts to spending, and make them quickly.
House Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) has vowed weekly votes on spending cuts starting in January, and the Appropriations Committee will be charged with drafting rescission bills to make that happen.
New committee members interviewed Friday by The Hill identified unspent stimulus money and the Obama healthcare reform bills as high on their list of targets for cuts. They said a more careful approach needs to be taken with defense spending.
Whether the new committee members will, in the long run, remain true to their rhetoric about fiscal restraint is an open question. Some of the GOP lawmakers interviewed expressed some unease with the voluntary earmark moratorium Republicans in the House and Senate adopted last month.
In a statement announcing his appointment to Appropriations, Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio) stressed fiscal responsibility but also highlighted how the position could benefit the people in his district.
“The work of the Appropriations Committee has a direct impact on our area including those military facilities in Ohio,” Austria’s statement said. “Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is expected to gain new missions related to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) 2005 and my work on this committee will allow me to better support and assist in continuing to strengthen those productive missions in and around the base.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said his top concern as a member of the spending panel is saving the nation from bankruptcy, but he said he is also wrestling with the question of whether Republicans have tied their hands by implementing an earmark moratorium.
“People are asking if we have ceded too much authority to the administration,” he said. “Congress has to have a way to make changes. Congress needs to have influence.”
Incoming freshman Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said he sees merit in both the pro- and anti-earmark arguments, but he says Congress will have to figure out a way to exert influence without using them.
“There are some earmarks with a quantifiable return on investment,” he said, though he noted the earmark ban is necessary to get the ball rolling on spending cuts and building credibility with the public.
Diaz-Balart said preserving necessary defense spending in a time of war is important. That sentiment was echoed by incoming freshman Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.). “I think everything in the appropriations process needs to be put under review,” he said. "However, I do think that defense is an important function that government takes."
Rep. Tom Graves (Ga.), who was sworn into office in June, said he has no reservations about embracing the earmark moratorium. He said he would seek to make $100 billion in immediate spending cuts in the spring before the nation reaches its $14 trillion debt limit.
Graves said he would focus on making enough cuts so the debt ceiling does not have to be raised.
Womack said he would be open to forcing a government shutdown over spending. If the debt ceiling has to be kept at its current level to force budget cuts, Womack said, “so be it.”
While the GOP has tapped longtime appropriator and former earmark proponent Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) to chair the panel, it has also given a slot to anti-earmark crusader Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
Flake has already picked his first fight with Rogers. Flake wants an investigations subcommittee to be created; his supporters want him to lead it. Rogers has said he does not back the idea because it would let the 12 existing subcommittees off the hook when it comes to investigating waste.
Womack and Graves said they are open to the idea of an investigative subcommittee. Diaz-Balart sided with Rogers and said the idea could lead the other subcommittees to shirk their oversight responsibilities.
Nunnelee and Diaz-Balart said they do not have subcommittee preferences at this point. Diaz-Balart did highlight his interest in foreign aid and financial services, however. Nunnelee has been named a “Friend of Agriculture” by the Mississippi Farm Bureau.
Congressman-elect Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) were also chosen by the House Republican Steering Committee to join Appropriations.