WASHINGTON — At least one Democrat — Rep. Ben Chandler of Kentucky's 6th District — was pleased when Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Somerset, was named chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday.
"Congressman Rogers' new appointment can't be anything but good for the commonwealth — this is a great honor for both Rogers and our state," said Chandler, D-Versailles.
"It's been a pleasure working with Hal in the past, and I look forward to working with him closely in the next Congress," Chandler said.
Rogers, who has brought home millions of dollars for projects widely criticized by many Democrats and some Republicans backed by the Tea Party movement as "pork," will be squarely in charge of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal spending.
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Rogers, a member of the appropriations panel since 1983, will head the committee at a time when congressional Republicans have promised to crack down on the types of earmarks — local projects stuffed into legislation — that made him popular in his 5th Congressional District and other parts of the state.
Rogers said he looks forward to the challenge of fighting for serious reforms in the funding process while still finding ways to pay for worthy projects in his southeastern Kentucky district.
"I look forward to the challenge. It's going to be a tough chore. We're going to have a period of austerity," Rogers said. "The challenge will be to get more bang for the buck."
He will probably have to find sources of funding other than earmarks for programs such as those aimed at luring employers to his district, promoting agriculture development and beefing up tourism, as well as his UNITE program to battle regional drug abuse and his PRIDE environmental cleanup program.
"They are going to have to compete for funds from agencies based on merit grants," Rogers said. "I would put UNITE or PRIDE against any competition. I think they would be successful in grants. The state will also have to do more than they have in the past."
Rogers said his priorities include restoring "some transparency in how Congress operates," an effort he said will be aided in no small part by encouraging each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees to be vigorous in their oversight.
While he'd also like to create several investigative panels to go after specific government-wide problems of waste, he stopped short of endorsing the idea of a permanent subcommittee with that mission.
Rogers has been criticized for using federal funds to help create the $52 million National Institute for Hometown Security, which includes a state-of-the-art facility with few employees; steering $17 million in federal money to the Somerset airport; and a $5 million measure for wildlife conservation groups — including one for which his daughter works — to protect endangered wildcats.
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.