Approps seat tests the GOP on spending

 House Republicans this month will face a defining moment when they fill an opening on the Appropriations Committee: Either appoint an anti-earmark lawmaker or risk further alienating conservatives at the grassroots level.

The intensifying effort to persuade Republican leaders to select Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcSally ties Democratic rival Kelly to Sanders in new ad McSally launches 2020 campaign Sinema will vote to convict Trump MORE (R-Ariz.) to fill ex-Rep. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders repeats with NH primary win, but with narrower victory Senators press NCAA on compensation for college athletes Overnight Defense: Inside Trump's 4B Pentagon budget | Highlights include .4B for Space Force, preview of Air Force One paint job | Senate eyes Wednesday debate on Iran war powers | 109 US troops diagnosed with brain injuries from attack MORE’s (R-Miss.) Appropriations seat grew stronger Monday as FreedomWorks endorsed the maverick lawmaker.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), now FreedomWorks president, said in a release, “Appointing Jeff Flake would make a major statement to the American people that the Republican Party is about the big ideas, such as ending wasteful earmarks and bringing transparency to the Appropriations Committee.” Armey added that the appointment is “a test” for the Republican Party, suggesting the GOP will not be back in the congressional majority unless it takes bold steps such as tapping Flake.

After sweeping GOP losses in the 2006 election, many Republicans on and off Capitol Hill faulted the rapid growth of earmarks as a major part of the party’s problem. President Bush last year pressed Congress to significantly curtail earmark use.


Flake is perhaps best known for offering anti-earmark amendments on the House floor that often fall well short of passing. The motions have infuriated some GOP members, especially appropriators. There are seven appropriators on the 27-member House Republican Steering Committee, which will make its decision later this month.

While influential outside groups are pushing for Flake, some Republicans and watchdogs are grumbling about Rep. Tom Cole’s (R-Okla.) bid for the appropriations opening. Cole’s surprise candidacy for the Wicker slot has triggered questions about the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) chairman’s motives.

Cole has indicated that he would be able to boost the NRCC’s war chest if appointed to the spending committee. Cole jumped into the race months after he and House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 Lobbying world Pelosi-Trump relationship takes turn for the terrible MORE (R-Ohio) clashed on NRCC’s fundraising, which is lagging far behind that of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“My first reaction is the crass power-play aspect of it was astonishing,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan group that monitors campaign finance expenditures. “These appropriations are used as partisan pawns rather than as wise spending of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Republicans “are going to have a tough decision between change and wanting to distance themselves from the [Jack] Abramoff era or [reiterating that] delivering pork is the way to gain political power, “ McGehee added.

Groups such as Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and began the drumbeat for Flake last week, saying that his brand of fiscal conservatism is badly needed on the spending panel. They urged members to contact BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 Lobbying world Pelosi-Trump relationship takes turn for the terrible MORE to advocate for a Flake appointment.

A Boehner spokesman said the office had received “some calls” on the topic.

“We need someone [to reform the committee] from the inside,” said Nachama Soloveichik, a spokeswoman for Club for Growth.

While declining to name Cole specifically, Soloveichik said that appointing another member would send a message of Washington business as usual.

“It’s not the message we want to send. It’s about cutting waste and eliminating corruption — it’s not about special deals,” she said, adding that while in the short term fundraising may go up, in the long term “it would be a stake in the heart of the party.”

One former GOP leadership aide was not so kind, describing Cole’s move as “selfish,” explaining that the seat should rightly go to a politically vulnerable member who could use the power the committee affords to stay in office. The aide noted that Democratic target Rep. Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertBottom Line The most expensive congressional races of the last decade Lymphedema Treatment Act would provide a commonsense solution to a fixable problem MORE (R-Wash.) is seeking the seat.

Cole’s office declined to comment on the those claims, pointing to its statement last week that says “Congressman Cole respects all of his colleagues who are also seeking this appointment. He has been quietly making his case to members of the Steering Committee and is confident they will make a decision in the best interests of the Republican Conference.”

In addition to Reichert, Flake and Cole, Reps. Henry Brown Jr. (R-S.C.), Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and Michael Turner (R-Ohio) have expressed interest in the post.

Last week, Flake found an unlikely ally in appropriator Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) who, while a strong believer in the right to earmark, believes Flake’s addition would be a strong message of a party’s ability to reform itself.

“Jeff has a lot of respect and would be a very good and very viable member,” Kingston said. “This would be a very serious step to get back to where we need to be.

“This is a big cultural challenge on our part: Are we ready for change?” Kingston said. “If we are not up to the challenge to step up to this challenge then we are not ready to assume the majority again.”

Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) echoed Kingston’s remarks, saying, “Jeff Flake is the gold standard of earmark reform. Period. End of paragraph.”

Hensarling pointed out that while several RSC members are interested in the post, Flake’s distinction as a member who does not accept earmarks sets him apart and would “send a very strong symbol” for fiscal responsibility. Hensarling stressed he is not endorsing Flake, however.

Flake asserted that his presence could add much-needed oversight to a committee that has been plagued with questionable ethical practices and, according to many conservatives, is in dire need of reform.

Flake said he has spoken to Boehner and other steering committee members about his bid.