After Murtha: Vacancy on critical House defense panel opens way for new leader

Rep. Norm Dicks seen as front-runner to lead House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee

The death of Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.) on Monday opens one of the most powerful and coveted seats on Capitol Hill: chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which decides how Pentagon money is spent. In this position, chairmen are known as “cardinals” in congressional parlance -- a nod to the role cardinals play in the Catholic church, said FOX News.

FOX and other news outlets are reporting that the likely successor will be Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), but Murtha’s replacement is not yet clear and it could be weeks before that person is seated.

According to Congressional Quarterly, the subcommittee writes the spending bill that accounts for more than half the federal government’s discretionary budget each year. That spending includes billions of dollars in earmarks for projects that employ constituents – something that has landed Murtha in hot water over the years as he was known as ones of the kings of pork-barreling.

Dicks is a longtime champion of defense and aerospace giant Boeing, which until 2001 was headquartered in his home state before moving to Chicago, and still maintains substantial facilities in the Seattle area. Dicks has been known to take a hawkish approach similar to Murtha’s, and also like Murtha favors earmarks, once calling them “an important legislative tool that separates us from the executive branch,” CQ said.

Dicks, now chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, is the next ranking Democrat on the defense appropriations subpanel. FOX reported that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer believes it will be Dicks who takes the House Defense Appropriations chair, but also floated as a contender Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas.

Though more junior than Dicks, Edwards chairs the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. He represents a large military constituency in his district and is well-schooled in the Pentagon's budgetary needs, FOX said.

“The DoD has lost the voice of a huge proponent,” said Bob Guerra, a founder of government consulting firm Guerra Kiviat Inc. “Having served as a decorated Marine, and then so many years in the House, his stature was without comparison. His early stand regarding the Iraq war brought him prominence, but his many years of service both in the military and on the Hill were all loaded with contributions,” Guerra said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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