Appropriations staff staying put

Some say new blood is needed, but others say so is expertise

Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican a committee member who ran unsuccessfully for chairman in late 2010, said having a new chairman and top-level advisers is more important than clearing out the dozens of longtime staffers on the panel.

“It’s equivalent of a new football coach; you don’t have to get rid of the whole team if you’ve got a new coach,” he said. “You’re going to have new plays, new ways of doing things.”

In addition to retaining many professionals who worked for the committee’s former ranking Republican, Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, Mr. Rogers is expected to hire some staffers from former chairman Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, who retired this month - a long-standing custom for one of the most bipartisan panels in Congress.

“When you get into the weeds of some of these programs, they’re really not that partisan, and these people are really good at being professional numbers counters,” Mr. Kingston said.

The appropriations’ staff is among the most autonomous on Capitol Hill, and holds unusually strong sway with lawmakers. But with Republicans under intense pressure to cut spending, appropriators will be in no mood this Congress to give staffers unchecked authority to draft legislation, Mr. Ornstein said.

Appropriators also must resist pressure from tea party conservatives from potentially damaging program cuts, said William Galston, a congressional expert with the Brookings Institution, a liberal-leaning Washington think tank, who said staffers can serve as a restraining voice of reason.

“Retaining people with experience is a way of retaining capacity to govern effectively,” he said.

Levi Russell, a spokesman with the Tea Party Express, a California-based conservative group, said he is concerned there may be too many holdovers on the staff. But he added he’s willing to give Mr. Rogers the benefit of a doubt — for now.

“Our whole thing is, we want the results of fiscal sanity and responsibility,” he said. “If these guys in the Appropriations Committee have seen the light and have gotten the message and are willing to do things differently than have been done in the past, then great … But if the same people means no real change ever comes about, then they’re going to hear from us.”

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