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CBC Could See It's Spending Clout Increase in the Next Congress


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The Hill:

CBC could see its spending clout increase in the next Congress
By Walter Alarkon - 05/14/10 06:02 PM ET
The Congressional Black Caucus is poised to gain major influence on the House Appropriations Committee.

If House Democrats keep their majority in the next Congress, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) is likely to become chairman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations subcommittee. The only members ahead of Fattah in seniority are panel's chairman, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), who lost a primary race this week, and retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.)

Another Black Caucus member, Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.), could win the gavel of the subcommittee for the State Department and foreign operations. Currently second in seniority, Jackson could succeed chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) if she decides to take the helm of the powerful subcommittee for Labor, Education and Health and Human Services (HHS) spending, which will be vacated by retiring Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.).
Lowey's office said she has yet to decide whether to go after the Labor, Education and HHS chairmanship.

By having clout on the Appropriations Committee, the CBC would have a greater voice to be able to push their priorities, said CBC Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).

"It's about equity in our federal resources," she told The Hill.

Seniority on the Appropriations Committee is a sought-after commodity because of the power the panel wields over the federal budget.

Discretionary spending measures -- including those funding wars and each government agency -- are typically considered by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees before they come up for full votes on either chamber. Each federal agency's budget request is first considered by a subcommittee, making the subcommittee chairmen -- known on Capitol Hill as "cardinals" -- far more powerful than junior appropriators. Federal discretionary spending for 2010, excluding the $33 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan war funding expected to pass this month, is expected to be $1.4 trillion.

The influence of appropriations can be seen by looking at the list of congressional leaders; Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-lll.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have all been appropriators.

Lee, another appropriator, has been pressing lawmakers to increase funding for job-creation programs in urban areas. She and CBC members have noted the unemployment rate among African Americans is 16.5 percent, far higher than the overall national rate of 9.9 percent. Most CBC members voted against a jobs bill in the House earlier this year that featured a tax credit for small businesses hiring new workers because it didn't include provisions targeted for high-unemployment areas, such as money for summer youth jobs.

CBC members would look to close disparities over jobs and other issues with increased influence over spending measures, Lee said.

"You have special circumstances because of our plight in this country, and that means we have a perspective on our federal dollars to address and close what I call these moral gaps, in the environment, healthcare, economic opportunity and education," she said.

Fattah is seeking even more power; he's running to succeed Obey as chairman of the full committee, despite being 21st-ranked Democrat in terms of seniority.

The only other declared candidate is Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who is behind only Obey on the seniority ladder. The entire House Democratic Caucus will vote on new committee chairmen at the start of the next Congress.

Fattah said he would look to involve lawmakers in spending decisions even if they're not senior appropriators or on that committee.

"The heart of the difference [between me and past leaders] is I want to engage the Democrats in the House," he said.

Fattah also has talked about dealing with the country's $13 trillion debt, which economists project to grow to an unsustainable rate in coming decades without spending and revenue changes. He has proposed a 1 percent fee on most financial transactions -- including all cash, credit card and check transactions -- to eliminate the debt within seven years.

"I think we're facing over the next year and decade the tightest spending caps that we could imagine, pressure on spending is going to be enormous, and the choices therefore are going to be important," Fattah said. "Within limited spending, what we prioritize is going to be critical and that's why in part I'm running."snip
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