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GOP Approps Battle Settled

Though half a dozen Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee will retire at the end of the 110th Congress, Mississippian Roger Wicker's elevation from the lower chamber to Trent Lott's open Senate seat touched off a scramble in recent weeks for his vacated seat on the powerful panel. The fierce campaigning came to an end yesterday, when Alabama Republican Jo Bonner won the seat over several rivals.

The Republican Steering Committee, which assigns members to each of the standing bodies in the House, chose Bonner over several other members who ran active and intense, if short-lived, campaigns to convince leaders they deserved the seat more. Bonner will join fellow Alabama Reps. Robert Aderholt, a Republican, and Bud Cramer, a Democrat, on Appropriations.

Others in the running included an eclectic mix of members from across the country who plied Steering Committee members with a variety of arguments. Rep. Dave Reichert, of Washington State, and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, of Colorado, are considered the members most vulnerable to Democratic challenges last year. Both said a seat on the committee would help firm up their re-election hopes.

Geography was also a factor. In a ten-page proposal to Steering Committee members, Reichert pointed out that he is the only Republican west of the Cascade Mountains from the Canadian border to Los Angeles, and that Democrats had spent $5 million trying to defeat him last year. Reichert also pointed out that, of the 29 Republicans on the panel, just four represented the West, including two from California and one each from Idaho and Montana. Adding another Washingtonian, he said, would create more balance.

Arizona Republican Jeff Flake also sought a seat on the panel, though for vastly different reasons. As one of the very few members who does not participate in the earmark process, Flake has spent years railing against out-of-control federal spending and has frequently offered amendments on the floor to strip earmarks from bills.

Given Republicans' new arguments against earmarks, and support for Flake from many outside conservative groups around Washington, many thought Flake might have a shot at serving as the committee's resident nay-sayer. Flake pointed out that Republican Leader John Boehner, a key member of the Steering Committee, is another member who does not accept earmarks. Still, Flake was seen by many as too much of a maverick on other issues to be rewarded with a rare opportunity to join the committee. It's not the first time Flake has found trouble on committees; at the end of the 109th Congress, he was booted from the Judiciary Committee when other, less senior members kept their seats.

Choosing Bonner, too, was seen as a rebuke of NRCC chairman Tom Cole, of Oklahoma, who had also made known his interest in serving on the panel, the Politico writes. Cole, whose NRCC lags far behind Democrats in cash on hand heading into this year's elections, told Steering Committee members a spot on the committee could help him raise more money and close the gap. Many felt that was the wrong message to send as Republicans try to cast themselves as reform-minded outsiders. A spokesman told Politics Nation that Cole withdrew his name from consideration before the Steering Committee made their decision.

Bonner, who also scored the nod over South Carolina Republican Henry Brown, was seen as a safe choice, according to Politico, and is a favorite of ranking member Jerry Lewis, of California. With Reps. Ralph Regula, Jim Walsh, David Hobson, John Peterson, Ray LaHood and Dave Weldon retiring next year, most candidates who tried this year will have another opportunity to run again in the next Congress.

Still, by picking a third member from Alabama, some believe Boehner and the rest of the Steering Committee passed up a chance either to inoculate Reichert or Musgrave from challenges this year or to reinforce their new message contrasting themselves with Democrats on spending and earmarks, by appointing Flake.