Appropriators in Senate follow House changes

Senate Republican appropriators yesterday afternoon endorsed a compromise that restructures the Senate Appropriations Committee, bringing it more into alignment with House-passed reforms of earlier this year.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) proposal, which he submitted to the committee for approval yesterday, eliminates the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies Subcommittee (VA-HUD) chaired by Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and rearranges the jurisdictions of several other subpanels.
File photo
Senate
Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)


As a result, the Appropriations Committee would streamline itself from 13 to 12 subcommittees, making it more symmetrical to House Appropriations, which eliminated three of its 13 subcommittees earlier this year. In recent weeks, Cochran had unsuccessfully attempted to convince his fellow appropriators to support different plans to restructure the committee.

The move would seemingly reduce the amount of logistical headaches appropriators would have faced later this year when merging House-Senate spending bills.

Had the Senate not changed its structure to better match the House, it would have almost guaranteed that both chambers would have had to roll the annual spending bills into a multi-bill omnibus package during conference negotiations later this year.
The demolition of VA-HUD sets off a chain reaction of panel switches among the cardinals, as the subcommittee chairmen are called. Bond would take over the gavel of Transportation-Treasury from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who would become chairman of the former Commerce, Justice and State Subcommittee. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the former head of that panel, would become chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee formerly led by Cochran, said a subcommittee chairman familiar with the deal.

A Democratic aide said that Senate Democrats had no input into Cochran’s plan. It is unclear which Democratic appropriator would be stripped of his or her ranking member’s status. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is the top Democrat on VA-HUD.

Cochran cemented support for his plan by relinquishing the chairmanship of Homeland Security and by preserving the jurisdiction of Sen. Ted Stevens’s (R-Alaska) defense subcommittee.

On the House side, GOP leaders split the Defense Subcommittee’s jurisdiction with the new Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, a combination of the old VA-HUD and Military Construction panels, Stevens said.

If Cochran had not vacated his post atop Homeland Security, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) would have lost her chairmanship of the Senate’s Military Construction Subcommittee. It is also possible that Gregg may have balked at accepting the gavel of Military Construction instead of Homeland Security as a consolation for losing control of Commerce, Justice, State.

Hutchison and Bond credited Cochran’s sacrifice of Homeland Security for winning support for his realignment.

“I think everyone is happy with what they’ve chosen to do,” Hutchison said of the new subcommittee assignments. She predicted yesterday that appropriators would support Cochran’s plan when they met a few hours later to ratify it.

Under Cochran’s plan, the jurisdictions of several subcommittees would be rearranged as well.

Military Construction would expand its portfolio to include veterans affairs. Housing and Urban Development would be handled by Transportation-Treasury, allowing Bond to retain authority over at least some of his old VA-HUD turf.

Jurisdiction over the State Department would transfer from the Commerce-Justice Subcommittee to the Foreign Operations Subcommittee. Independent agencies formerly under VA-HUD’s control would be split up among different subcommittees.

The Commerce Subcommittee would gain authority over the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Interior would take jurisdiction over the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Energy and Water Development Subcommittee would gain jurisdiction over coal-related issues, an area that Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.) claimed when he headed that subcommittee, said Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the chairman of Energy and Water.

To secure approval of his plan, Cochran had to overcome Stevens’s and Bond’s objections to various restructuring proposals.

Stevens had argued that splitting the defense panel’s jurisdiction with a Military Quality of Life Committee, such as exists in the House, would create havoc on the chamber floor.

“When you start crossing the lines of function, you get certain points of order over here that you don’t over there,” Stevens said about the different budgetary constraints in Senate and House rules.

“It’s going to be an absolute mess over here because of what they’ve done,” Stevens predicted before the Presidents’ Day recess, complaining about the House restructuring plan crafted by House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.).

Yesterday, Stevens said he supported Cochran’s plan because it kept the Defense Subcommittee’s former jurisdiction intact. But he warned that the House would have to reunite its Defense Subcommittee’s former jurisdiction to allow defense spending to maintain its priority on the congressional calendar.

“It’s up to them to look at what [Cochran has] done and make these subcommittee mesh, and that can be done,” Stevens said of the House appropriators. “The real problem is with defense. [House appropriators] have got it in two committees. If they will change that now we can work this out without an omnibus bill.

“If they keep it that way, I guarantee that we’ll have to have an omnibus bill. I also guarantee you that you can’t get defense done first, which has always been our tradition.”

Bond said the House decision to restructure its Appropriations Committee was unnecessary and grumbled about his loss of authority over issues that he has worked on for years.

“I think we had to have a compromise,” he said. “I’m going to lose some or many of [my issues], but if we didn’t do this the VA-HUD Subcommittee would wind up in a seven-subcommittee negotiation, which is the definition of an omnibus or an ominous, as I call it.”