For Rogers, frustration over House spending bills boiled over

People who know Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said they weren't surprised when the House Appropriations Committee chairman ripped his party over its handling of this year’s spending bills. [WATCH VIDEO]

They say the chairman’s frustration, particularly with what allies call the unrealistic expectations of some of his conference's newest members, has been mounting for months.

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They also said Rogers, a veteran appropriator serving his seventeenth term in Congress, wanted to send a message to his party.

“He’s frustrated like all members of the Appropriations Committee,” said Rogers's ally Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). “Why are we making these really tough votes?”

Rogers made headlines last month when he criticized GOP leaders for taking a 2014 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill off the floor.

GOP leaders said the vote was postponed for scheduling reasons, but Rogers said his party didn’t have the votes, and the bill would have been defeated.

He said Republicans weren’t ready to support a bill — modeled after Rep. Paul Ryan's budget — that cut the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development departments' funding to a level below what was authorized in 2006. Some conservatives in the party wanted even deeper cuts.

Rogers said discretionary spending in Ryan's budget was unrealistically low, in part because the Ryan budget makes deeper cuts to domestic spending so that Defense spending can be increased above the levels set by the sequester.

He argued the Senate, House and White House needed to come together on a deal to replace the sequester with a combination of cuts to entitlements and mandatory spending.

“The prospects for passing this bill in September are bleak at best, given the vote count on passage that was apparent this afternoon,” he said. “With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago. Thus, I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration — and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts — must be brought to an end.”

Allies of Rogers predicted there would be no repercussions for the unusual public split with GOP leaders.

“I don’t think there is a rift with leadership. Leadership is probably as frustrated as Hal,” Simpson said. “There might have been some concern that his statement was as blunt as it was.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), another Rogers ally, said the strong statement was meant as a “lesson to the conference” from “someone who has been around for a while” and wants to see Republicans enact policy.

“We threw away all our work last year and got some of it back in March,” said Cole, who has known Rogers for 22 years.

The statement was needed, Simpson said, to try to push leaders to some negotiation and a return to Congress when it worked better.

Colleagues describe Rogers as a bourbon-drinking, cigar-smoking Southerner who cares deeply about economic development in his impoverished district. He’s seen as cut in the mode of a traditional appropriator who wants to use the process to help members fund projects in their districts.

This has, at times, allowed him to build alliances with even some of the new conservatives who have joined the House ranks since 2010.

Sophomore Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), for example, is a co-author of legislation to defund ObamaCare.

But Graves isn’t yet calling for his measure to be added to a government-funding bill, a move that could lead to a government shutdown. Instead, Graves said he is committed to using the regular appropriations process to defund ObamaCare.

He said he supports Rogers’s statement.

“He’s a great defender of the process and all the work the committee has done,” he said.

Appropriator Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who is serving his second term in Congress, called Rogers his mentor.

“He reminds me a lot of my father,” Womack said. “His personal skills are the among the best I’ve seen.”

“He is what in your mind you envision when you think of Congress, a Southern gentleman from years gone by,” Simpson said.

Rogers declined to comment for this story, but former aides say he is frustrated that things aren’t getting done. The House has only moved four appropriations bills for the next fiscal year, and all are military related.

Rogers has managed to move all but two bills through his committee so far with dozens of tough amendment votes.

“He’s a conservative, but he likes to get things done,” said former aide John Shank, now works for Boeing. “You have got a lot of new members who have never seen regular order, and they think this is the way things get done.”

Aides say Rogers could work well with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, if given a chance.

Former aide Kevin Fromer, now at HSBC Bank, said his former boss wants to enact full spending bill to ensure oversight of agencies. “He does not view this all as a purely political exercise,” said Fromer, who has known Rogers since 1982.

Many people were surprised when Rogers was able to negotiate in March a “hybrid” continuing resolution that preserved five full spending bill texts. He worked closely with Mikulski to get that deal.

“He has been around when the system has worked,” said another former aide, Jeff Shockey.

This story was updated at 10:09 a.m.