The Republican congressman from one of the nation’s poorest and most rural districts said yesterday that he has the votes to become chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee if his party takes control of the chamber as a result of Tuesday’s elections, as expected.
Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers of Kentucky’s 5th District told The Rural Blog that he has 19 of the 33 votes on the Republican Steering Committee, which determines chairmanships. Rogers, an Appropriations subcommittee chairman in his 30th year in Congress, is a member of the committee.
In a later conversation with reporters, Rogers crossed his fingers and said Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican leader and would-be speaker, had reminded him that the only votes you can count in such intramural elections are those of "the people who say they’re voting against you." Rogers is from Somerset, just outside the Central Appalachian coalfield.
The Appropriations chairmanship has been in some doubt because the House rule limiting chairs to three terms is open to interpretation and Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., was chairman for two terms until Republicans lost control of the House in 2006. Since then he has been the top-ranking minority member. A spokesman for Boehner told Sara Jerome of The Hill this week that the term limit includes time in the minority.
The rule allows for waivers, and Lewis reportedly has asked for one. Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times reported this week that Lewis "could return" as chairman. However, John Gizzi of the conservative publication Human Events quoted an unnamed "senior Republican" Oct. 9 as saying that "John Boehner just won’t let Jerry get it." Boehner has five votes on the Steering Committee, and Gizzi reported that Rogers is "the runaway favorite to chair the spending panel."
UPDATE, Oct. 30: Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader notes that the Steering Committee will be reconstituted after Tuesday’s election, and "Rogers may have to line up votes from some new members." But he also reports that Rogers is a close friend of Boehner. Estep also notes, "Rogers has been adept at getting federal money for a range of programs and projects, including economic development, infrastructure, tourism and anti-drug efforts. . . . Rogers said Republicans have a moratorium on earmarks and have pledged to reduce spending and knock down the deficit. That means more austerity going forward, he said." But he also told Estep, "There’ll be a lot of things we’ll be able to help Kentucky with."
James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal reports that Rogers has funneled $857,000 to Republican candidates and party committees for Tuesday’s election, "generosity that reflects his plans to become the most powerful House committee chairman." Once the Steering Committee is re-elected, Carroll reports for the Louisville newspaper, "The Kentuckian’s pitch to his colleagues has been that he has been a member of the spending panel for 28 years, has been chairman of three subcommittees and a member of eight subcommittees."