Federal Relations

May 6, 2010

Update: Retirement, Budget, and Disaster Relief

The retirement of House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) will mark a change in the Democratic leadership of one of Congress’ most powerful committees.  Our own Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA) appears to be the lead candidate to replace Obey as the top Democrat on Appropriations in the next Congress.  Currently the second-ranking Democrat on the full committee, Dicks has been on the panel since the mid-1970s but didn’t assume the chairmanship of a subcommittee (Interior-Environment) until 2007 when Democrats regained control of the House after 12 years of Republican control. He moved to Chair the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this year after the death of Congressman Murtha (D-PA). Dicks expressed an interest in chairing the full committee, as well as keeping his current spot on Defense, but the biggest challenge for Democrats is to retain their majority in this fall’s elections. The selection of committee and subcommittee chairmen is made by the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee and must be ratified by the full Democratic Caucus.  This process will begin after November and into the New Year.

House Democratic leaders are meeting today to discuss whether they will move an FY11 budget resolution.  Unfortunately, there had been no appreciable movement toward an agreement on the budget and few expect that to change with today’s meeting.  Obey’s retirement may not have any impact on this year’s appropriations process, which was already facing an unsettled state. Most Members of Congress don’t expect many spending bills to be enacted before the November elections, and there has been talk of the possibility that fewer still may be considered on the House floor. Democrats still haven’t decided whether or not they will move a budget resolution, which would set top-line discretionary funding for the year, because of a disagreement within the Democratic Caucus on whether non-security discretionary spending should be cut.

Meanwhile, Senate leaders may soon decide whether to separately move the FEMA disaster supplemental bill along with aid to the Gulf Coast as opposed to waiting to deal with this issue via the war supplemental measure. Before the oil spill, the House approved HR 4899, a bill making emergency supplemental appropriations for disaster relief and summer jobs, which is intended to replenish funding for FEMA.    When asked about a possible vehicle for providing federal aid for the Gulf Coast oil spill, the Hawaii Democrat referenced the House-passed bill (HR 4899) to replenish FEMA’s depleted disaster relief funding. A complicating factor for providing aid for the oil spill through this bill is that actual needs are not yet known since the event in the Gulf is still unfolding. The House has suggested that they will hold off on moving the war supplemental until other funding needs were known, including for the Gulf Coast.