FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s clout in Washington grew Wednesday as Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, realized a long-time goal and was confirmed by the Republican conference as Chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. The House Republican Steering Committee recommended Rogers on Tuesday but the rank and file had to ratify the selection Wednesday.
“It is truly humbling to receive the confidence of my colleagues and I am ready to get to work so that together we can move our country forward,” Rogers said.
Rogers has been on the committee since 1983, chairing subcommittees and working his way up the seniority ladder with the goal of chairing the committee which controls federal spending priorities. He used his position to direct millions in federal funds to his impoverished Fifth Congressional District. Some critics dubbed Rogers a “Prince of Pork.” Rogers never apologized for his use of federal funds to finance anti-drug, environmental clean-up and economic development programs for the region.
But his timing might have been better in realizing his goal – Republicans regained control of the House largely by running against “runaway” spending and deficits and the new Republican majority – especially the large freshman class – demanded an end to earmarks, specified spending inserted into the federal budget by powerful congressmen like Rogers. Rogers signed on to a moratorium on earmarks, without which he probably would have been denied the chairmanship.
“We are facing unprecedented times and the American people are giving us a unique opportunity to start reining in government and getting our economy back on track,” Rogers said after Wednesday’s vote. “My Republican colleagues and I are listening and we will fight to rein in spending, implement rigorous oversight and work together to change the culture on Capitol Hill.”
Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said the choice of Rogers as Appropriations Chairman is good news for Kentucky. Beshear spoke with Rogers by phone Wednesday afternoon, congratulating him on his confirmation as chairman.
“It is great to have a Kentuckian in a position like that,” Beshear said. “Obviously it will be good for our state and I’m looking forward to working with him. I think his being chairman of the House Appropriations Committee will be great for Kentucky.”
Rogers held off challenges from Rep. Jerry Lewis of California and Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia. Lewis previously was the committee’s chairman before Democrats took control of the House but was limited by a Republican term limit rule. Kingston was favored by some TEA Party groups and The Club for Growth.
Rogers will be watched by conservatives, wary of his “appropriator” status for years. But he has promised to work with Republican leadership in the House to restore spending levels to pre-stimulus, 2008 spending levels and to conduct vigorous oversight of spending by the Obama administration. He’s also promised to cut the committee staff and hire a communications specialist to manage Republican message strategy on spending.
His elevation to chairman gives the state two very powerful Republican voices in the nation’s capitol. Sen. Mitch McConnell is the Republican Minority Leader in the Senate. While McConnell still leads a minority, Republicans picked up six seats in the November election and can block legislation by denying measures 60 votes to cut off debate.