Community Development Field

Breaking Down Walls: Senate Appropriators

Last week we looked at the House appropriators, this week we are moving across the Hill to the Senate appropriators who oversee funds made available to housing and community development […]

Last week we looked at the House appropriators, this week we are moving across the Hill to the Senate appropriators who oversee funds made available to housing and community development programs. They are a busy group right now tackling the resolution of the FY2011 budget dispute at the same time they are holding hearings on the President’s FY 2012 budget.

The power in the Senate Appropriations Committee rests with the Democrats who still hold a slim majority. Eight-term Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) holds the keys, while six-term Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) leads his Republican colleagues on the full committee.

Three-term Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) serves as chair of the subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. New to the position of ranking member of the subcommittee is three-term Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). (Fun fact: Along with California, Washington and Maine voters share the distinction of having elected two women senators in their respective states.)

The membership of the Democratic side of the subcommittee includes Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) who served as ranking member of the subcommittee when former Republican Sen. Kit Bond served as chair. Presently she serves as chair of the Commerce, Justice and Science spending subcommittee. Other members of the subcommitee who carry significant weight among their colleagues include:

• Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), subcommittee chair for agriculture spending
• Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), majority whip and subcommittee chair for financial services and general government
• Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Judiciary Committee and subcommittee chair for state and foreign operations
• Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD), chair of the Banking Committee and subcommittee chair for military construction and veterans affairs
• Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the Health, Education and Labor full committee and the labor, health, human services and education appropriations subcommittee
• Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of Select Intelligence.

Although this subcommittee is populated by members with substance and power it includes only one southern state member, two-term Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR).

In contrast to the heft on the Democratic side of this subcommittee, the Republican membership is heavily made up of freshman lawmakers. As Sen. Collins becomes comfortable as the new subcommittee ranking member she must also orient five newly elected Republican senators among her nine members on the subcommittee. This is a challenge for her and an opportunity for advocates. One new Senator, Mark Kirk (R-IL), is definitely worth watching if only for his relationship with his colleague Sen. Durbin, who wields such power in the Senate.

Another interesting parallel with the Democratic side of this subcommittee is that just as Banking Committee Chair Johnson sits on the majority side of this subcommittee, the ranking member, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) sits on the minority side. Protecting their interests I’d say.

Moving onto the Senate appropriations subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development and the FDA, chaired by fourth-term Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), it is interesting to note that many of the same names appear on this subcommittee on the Democratic side as we see in the THUD subcommittee above. Senators Harkin, Feinstein, Johnson, and Pryor all sit on both subcommittees. Only Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) do not. Sen. Brown is the newest member of the subcommittee and a new member of the full Appropriations Committee.

In keeping with the pattern established in the minority side of the THUD subcommittee, Republican leadership has decided to seemingly use these two appropriations subcommittees as training grounds for newly elected senators. Former seventh-term House member, now Senator, Roy Blunt (R-MO) is now the ranking member of this subcommittee. This is very unusual for a first-time Senator with no previous appropriations experience. In addition to Blunt, newly elected Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Sen. James Hoeven (R-ND) are new to these issues and to the workings of the Appropriations Committee. Heavyweights Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), ranking member of the full Appropriations Committee, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and THUD subcommittee ranking member Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) round out the subcommittee membership. Guess we know who’s on first, second and third bases on this subcommittee.

OK, you say. More names, another part of the complex screenplay on Capitol Hill…what does this all mean to me and to my organization? If any of your elected officials are named above or listed on the attached committee membership list, then pick up the phone, make an appointment with their state-based staff in preparation for a trip to D.C. to talk to their D.C.-based staff. No questions, no groaning, no excuses… DO IT!

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