Foxes Want to Run Appropriations Henhouse

With the House Republican Steering Committee poised to select committee chairmen next month, the most-closely watched race is for Appropriations chair. Current Chairman Bill Young (R.-Fla.) has hit the three-term limit for chairmen, sparking a fierce race for succession among three senior Republicans on the panel: Ralph Regula (Ohio), Hal Rogers (Ky.), and Jerry Lewis (Calif.). All have been in Congress at least 24 years and each chairs a major Appropriations subcommittee. But for the increasingly conservative House GOP caucus there is a dilemma: All three are big spenders. Regula (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 65%) and Rogers (lifetime ACU rating: 83%) were pivotal players in rescuing government programs slated for the chopping block in 1995, and Lewis (ACU rating: 83%) supported big tax increases in 1990. Their rescue of the National Endowment for the Arts and two other relics of the “Great Society” days did much to discourage conservatives from future attempts to close down government agencies. If strict seniority still determined chairmanships, Regula, who is now 80 and starting his 33rd year in Congress, would have taken over Appropriations in 1994. But Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Steering Committee passed him over then in favor of the more conservative Rep. Bob Livingston (R.-La.). Regula now has the added advantage of being the candidate who has done the most for other Republicans. His CAREPAC this year donated more than $645,000 to 103 GOP House candidates. In 1997, when the House voted to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, Regula worked with “moderate” Republican Sen. Slade Gorton (Wash.) to resurrect the agency in a conference committee. He argued that a spending bill without NEA funding might be vetoed by then-President Clinton and cause another government shutdown akin to 1995-96. “We certainly could test this threat,” he wrote his colleagues, “but the cost would be possibly another government shutdown, including the national parks in your district (emphasis added).” The NEA emerged with $100 million and survived. Rogers, who chaired the Commerce and Justice subcommittee during the early days of the House Republican majority, lobbied successfully to retain such “essential” federal programs as the Legal Services Administration and the Economic Development Administration. The 70-year-old Lewis, who came to Congress in 1978 and now chairs the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, was known for his close cooperation on the full committee with his good friend, the big-spending Rep. Vic Fazio (D.-Calif.), who retired in 1998 That chumminess, coupled with Lewis’s support for the 1990 tax increases, led GOP colleagues to dump him as House GOP Conference chairman in 1992, replacing him with then-Rep. Dick Armey (R.-Tex.) The records of these three candidates for the chairmanship of the committee that determines federal spending leaves many conservatives asking: Isn’t there anyone else in the House who wants this job?