By Alexander Bolton - 01/27/11 08:31 PM EST
Six freshman GOP senators have landed posts on the Senate Appropriations Committee, a powerful panel that has lost some luster in recent years.
GOP Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Jerry Moran (Kan.), John Hoeven (N.D.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) were named to the committee with jurisdiction over federal discretionary spending.
Five Republicans on the panel retired last year, and the panel added additional GOP seats to reflect an increase of Republican members in the 112th Congress.
Critics of federal spending and earmarks hope the retirement of old bulls such as Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) will allow them to change the culture of spending in the upper chamber.
Senate Republicans voted in November to adopt a conference-wide moratorium on earmarks.
Conservatives may need the long-term support of the newly appointed members to keep the moratorium in effect for future Congresses.
Previously, slots on the Appropriations Committee were hotly contested within the GOP conference, but interest in joining the panel has waned in recent years as it has lost considerable influence.
Last year the Senate failed to pass a single appropriations bill, and senior members of the committee acknowledge their practice of earmarking funds is all but dead.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic whip and a member of Appropriations, told reporters Wednesday the Senate is “out of the business of earmarks” after President Obama vowed to veto any spending bill that included them.
To many conservative voters, the committee has become emblematic of rising federal spending and pork-barrel projects.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Republicans’ presidential nominee in 2008, is a longtime critic of the Appropriations panel.
Conservatives, such as President of Americans for Tax Reform Grover Norquist, has called for the creation of an “anti-appropriations” committee. He has suggested modeling such a panel after the Joint Committee on Nonessential Federal Expenditures, which operated from 1941 to 1974.
Freshman Republican Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of three members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, said Thursday he asked Senate leaders to name him chairman of an anti-appropriations panel. Paul told people who attended the group's meeting Thursday that leaders informed him they had no plans to establish such a committee.
“It’s pretty interesting that all of the old bulls have decided this is a
committee they don’t want to be on anymore,” a Republican strategist said of
the Appropriations panel. “It’s not usually a freshman assignment.
“It’s a committee that’s now full of landmines because of all the Tea Party scrutiny.”