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GOP veterans to lead key committees next year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hal Rogers, who over a 30-year career in Congress has honed his skills at winning pork-barrel projects for his constituents back in Kentucky, is in line to head the House committee that next year will spearhead the Republican drive to trim the fat off federal spending.

The House Republican Steering Committee announced Tuesday that it was recommending Rogers to chair the 60-member Appropriations Committee, the panel responsible for disbursing more than $1 trillion in non-entitlement program federal dollars every year.

Rogers was one of some 20 Republicans tapped to chair committees next year, including Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, a moderate chosen to lead the Energy and Commerce Committee. Upton leapfrogged over the current top Republican on the panel, Joe Barton of Texas, who also vied for the position.

The chairmanship lineup for the new session of Congress to convene in January will be confirmed Wednesday at a full meeting of Republican House members.

Rogers won out over two other veterans with a history of securing earmarks, or special projects, for their districts, former committee chairman Jerry Lewis of California and Jack Kingston of Georgia. All three campaigned for the position by vowing to carry out the GOP’s pledge to ban earmarks and stressing that they were the best man to realize out the Republican’s election promises to drastically slash federal spending.

“The nation is in a fiscal crisis and hard decisions are coming,” Rogers said in a statement after his selection.

Republicans have been mulling significant changes to how the appropriations process works, including an idea to break up spending bills to make them easier to cut. Currently Congress has to pass 12 appropriations bills every year to fund discretionary federal programs — as opposed to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

But the tea party advocates who helped elect the budget-cutting conservatives who will dominate the GOP majority next year were not without their doubts. “These guys have proven that this is not what they believe. This is what they’re doing because it’s politically expedient,” said Mark Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots.

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Rogers and Lewis won $99 million and $98 million respectively in earmarks in the budget year ending Sept. 30, enough to rank 10th and 11th out of 435 House members. In the same period, Kingston sponsored or co-sponsored roughly $67 million in earmarks and ranked 32nd.

Rogers, 72, was first elected to Kentucky’s 5th district in the state’s eastern coal area in 1980. He was active in creating the Homeland Security Department and is known for using his influence as an appropriator to bring jobs and projects back to his state. In a previous attempt to become Appropriations chairman in 2005 he was defeated by Lewis.

Upton, just elected to his 13th term representing southwestern Michigan, is another mainstream Republican who had to prove his conservative credentials to win the chairmanship of Energy and Commerce, a committee with a portfolio ranging from trade, and consumer protection to energy and the environment and health.

He beat out Barton, a Texas conservative with close ties to the oil industry. Barton, the top Republican on the committee, needed a waiver because of term limit restrictions and got himself in trouble earlier this year when he apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward during a hearing on the Gulf oil spill.

Barton and other conservatives questioned Upton over his moderate voting record, including his support of the bailout of the auto industry and legislation to phase out use of incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy-efficent bulbs.

Upton has tried to prove himself to conservatives by attacking the Environmental Protection Agency for its “job-killing regulations,” demanding a repeal of the new health care law, pledging to block the Federal Communications Commission from regulating the Internet and going after White House energy adviser Carol Browner for her role in imposing a moratorium in deep-water drilling.

“The Obama administration is on notice,” Upton said in a statement after the vote. “They will not be allowed to regulate what they have been unable to legislation.”

Among other chairmen-designates were Howard “Buck” McKeon of California for Armed Services; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida for Foreign Affairs; Peter King of New York for Homeland Security; David Camp of Michigan for Ways and Means and Spencer Bachus of Alabama for Financial Services.

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Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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