WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers — who has steered hundreds of millions of federal dollars to projects in his rural Kentucky district over three decades — was tapped late Tuesday by a group of Republican leaders to head the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
The choice by the House Republican Steering Committee brings to a close a competitive, weeks-long, behind-the-scenes battle among Rogers, current ranking member Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., and Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., for arguably the House's most powerful committee chairmanship.
If the full House Republican caucus approves the committee decision as expected Wednesday, Rogers, R-Somerset, will head up a committee charged with helping oversee the allocation of millions in federal funds.
"I am humbled and thrilled with the Steering Committee's decision and look forward to the honor and responsibility of leading the Appropriations Committee next year if the full GOP conference approves the recommendation tomorrow," Rogers said in a statement.
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In waging his campaign to head the committee, Rogers publicly shifted his tone on earmarks in the wake of the Tea Party-fueled Republican takeover of the House amid concerns of unchecked spending.
"There is no doubt that we have a tough and demanding chore ahead of us," Rogers said.
"The nation is in a fiscal crisis, and hard decisions are coming. I look forward to working with leadership and my Republican colleagues in fighting for serious reforms of the committee, bringing fiscal sanity back to our budgeting process, performing vigorous oversight of the failed job-creation policies of the Obama administration and moving our nation forward."
Democrats were quick to pounce on the committee's decision as proof that Republicans will renege on pledges to curb spending.
"American families heard a lot of Republican rhetoric about fiscal responsibility and reining in debt this election season, but now they're faced with the choice of the 'Prince of Pork' to head their appropriations process," said Ryan Rudominer of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"Representative Rogers' record on fiscal responsibility looks like a shopping spree — no splurge left behind. Are Republicans really going to reduce the debt by selecting Hal Rogers — of the Hal Rogers Parkway — as their pork barrel chairman, or will the 85 new freshmen members honor their pledge to be fiscally responsible?
"Voters will be watching this first test of whether the freshmen Republicans are really committed to fiscal responsibility."
The Daniel Boone Parkway in southeastern Kentucky was renamed the Hal Rogers Parkway in honor of the congressman's efforts to have the federal government pay off the parkway's construction bonds.
This fiscal year, Rogers sponsored or co-sponsored 50 earmarks totaling $93.4 million, ranking 10th out of the 435 representatives, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group that tracks money in politics.
Rogers also was instrumental in creating federally funded programs aimed at luring employers to his 5th Congressional District, promoting agriculture development, beefing up tourism and battling drug abuse.
Rogers has long pushed for, but not gotten full funding for, a four-lane interstate between Somerset and London, designated as I-66.
Though the House appropriations chairmanship is one of considerable sway, the nature of the job will be very different in the next congressional session.
Rogers, who won his 16th term this year, and fellow Republicans have voted for a moratorium on earmarks for fiscal 2011 and have pledged to reduce spending and knock down the deficit.
As a result, Rogers' programs may end up relying more heavily on state aid or merit-based federal grants.
"They'll have to change the way they finance themselves," Rogers said last month.