Until now, a seat on the House Appropriations Committee would have been considered a plum assignment, perhaps the pinnacle of one’s Congressional career, regardless of party affiliation. Such an assignment would bring prestige, visibility, and especially power, as members often favor their home districts with pork-barrel spending — and can control how much other members of the House get to take home to theirs. The competition for such entry points to Capitol Hill careerists made those committee assignments one of the biggest decisions for caucus leadership.
Not this year, though. As Politico reports, Republicans want to distance themselves from the compromises and sleazy deals that have become the hallmark of Appropriations, and John Boehner is having trouble finding takers:
A band of conservative rebels has taken over the House, vowing to slash spending, cut the deficit and kill earmarks.
And of course they’d love a seat on the powerhouse Appropriations Committee so they can translate their campaign zeal into action, right?
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was asked to be an appropriator and said thanks, but no thanks. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a tea party favorite, turned down a shot at Appropriations, which controls all discretionary spending. So did conservatives like Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an ambitious newcomer who will lead the influential Republican Study Committee.
Indeed, the Appropriations Committee just doesn’t seem to be the plum assignment it once was, and the line is short for new recruits to join a panel where the longtime focus on bringing home earmarks and other goodies will shift to finding $100 billion in spending cuts. Even conservative reformers who do get assigned to the committee are likely to be stymied once their appropriations bills reach the floor and get amended to death, then potentially earmarked into oblivion by a Democratic Senate.
There is one Republican who wants a seat on the panel: Jeff Flake. The anti-pork crusader has fought for years to get a seat on the committee so that he can follow through on his threat to publicize every pork request that the panel considers, and then to vote against them all. Flake found some surprising support this year when Appropriations veteran Jerry Lewis (R-CA) endorsed Flake for the committee seat. Lewis wants the chair of Appropriations (he was the ranking member in this session), and endorsed Flake in part to show that he got the message from voters in 2010 about fighting pork and reducing spending. Eric Cantor, the #2 man in GOP House leadership, reportedly wants Flake on the committee, and other reformers too.
If Appropriations has stopped being a draw for those seeking power and an assignment that only reformers want and others take reluctantly, then perhaps this past election has changed a few minds in Washington about business as usual. Let’s get Flake, Jason Chaffetz, and other no-pork stalwarts onto Appropriations and really reform Congress.