Senate appropriations reorganization could come this week

Budget action will be dominated by hearings this week in both the House and Senate on President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget and could be punctuated by a long-awaited announcement by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., on his panel's reorganization for the 109th Congress.

Sources late last week said that while nothing was final, Cochran was considering a modified version of the reorganization plan of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., which pared the number of subcommittees from 13 to 10.

According to sources, Cochran would leave the centerpiece of Lewis' organizing structure intact: elimination of the VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, with its expansive jurisdiction parceled out to five revamped subcommittees. That Senate subcommittee still has a hearing planned for Thursday, which could be among its last.

If he goes forward with restructuring, Cochran is expected to preserve the Legislative Branch and District of Columbia Appropriations subcommittees as separate entities, for a total of 12 subcommittees. In the House, Lewis absorbed the Legislative Branch panel into the full committee, while the D.C. bill joined a new Transportation, Treasury and Housing Subcommittee.

And in a concession to Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Cochran last week was considering leaving that subcommittee's jurisdiction intact.

Lewis has moved defense health, environment and some operations and maintenance accounts out of the Defense bill into a new Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs panel. Stevens, however, has balked at the loss of almost $40 billion worth of jurisdiction, arguing it could slow the distribution of Pentagon funds if attached to two different bills.

While this subcommittee formulation would not be trouble-free, it would be easier to reconcile appropriations bills than if the Senate opted not to alter its current 13-subcommittee structure, which would not match up with the House at all.

With 12 Senate subcommittees, Cochran would preserve gavels for his remaining "cardinals." Former Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., retired.

The big question is where the current Senate cardinals will land. The early line has VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Christopher (Kit) Bond, R-Mo., moving to a new Transportation, Treasury and Housing panel, which would set off a game of musical chairs as less-senior members are forced to other spots.

For example, it is presumed Transportation-Treasury Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., would bump Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and so on.

The C-J-S panel would absorb science agencies from the old VA-HUD bill, including NASA. Shelby, an ardent NASA supporter, would be a natural ally of likely Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., in preserving increases for the space program. Both have major NASA facilities in their states, as does House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who was a driving force behind the appropriations reorganization process in the House.

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