Politics & Government

Rep. Kay Granger makes a move to take charge of defense spending

Rep. Kay Granger of Texas is surrounded by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 25, 2014, as she emerges from a closed-door session with fellow Republicans.
Rep. Kay Granger of Texas is surrounded by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 25, 2014, as she emerges from a closed-door session with fellow Republicans. AP

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, is in powerful company these days, on a first-name basis with world leaders, overseeing funding for the State Department and foreign programs, and presiding as the vice chairman of the spending panel that funds defense – important for her North Texas district.

But after nearly 20 years in Congress, Granger, a former mayor of Fort Worth, is making a play for more. She is putting out the word that in the next Congress she wants to be the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, which would put her in charge of more than $575 billion in defense programs and war funding.

“It’s been a goal of mine since I came to Congress,” Granger said in an interview. “When I came to Congress my realities were keeping us safe. It goes back to my time as mayor, when there were so many gangs.”

Granger has been on the House Appropriations Committee since 1999, two years after she was first elected to Congress in 1996. The 12 subcommittee chairmanships of the funding panel are enormously powerful, so much so that each chairman is traditionally known as a “cardinal,” as in the top spiritual leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

Granger has been a cardinal for six years, chairwoman of the subcommittee responsible for the State Department and foreign operations funding, which means that the secretary of state, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had to come and testify to request funding for her agency.

Granger will be spearheading her subcommittee’s bill before the full committee as soon as next week. The bill would limit refugees from Syria reaching the U.S. and push poaching restrictions on endangered species.

She has been a member of the Defense Subcommittee for 10 years, where she is the vice chairwoman to Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who is likely to move up to chairman of the full committee.

Republicans in the House of Representatives, who are likely to keep the House majority, choose leaders and chairmen immediately after the November elections. The subcommittee chairs will be selected by the new chairman, who will succeed Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky. He is limited to three two-year terms.

Frelinghuysen, asked about the prospective committee changes, told McClatchy, “Obviously we have to get through this election.” He added of Granger, “I have a very high regard for my vice chairman.”

It isn’t a totally greased process.

Frelinghuysen is facing a possible challenge from another senior member of the panel, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who told McClatchy, “We’re looking at it.” Rogers, the chairman, could claim a subcommittee chairmanship, even possibly defense. Asked about his plans, Rogers waved away questions, saying, “All of that’s way too early.”

But Granger is bullish. “I think I have a good chance,” she said. She has strong support from the powerful Texas delegation, including House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, who told McClatchy, “We’ll fight diligently for her.”

Being on both subcommittees has put Granger in position to look out for North Texas defense interests, such as Fort Worth-based Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., builder of the F-35, Bell Boeing-built V-22 aircraft and Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth.

“It’s important to my district,” she said, adding that she’s “very, very involved” in assessing the needs of the Pentagon.

Another appeal to getting the defense chairmanship is that she would be assigned to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, adding to her foreign operations portfolio.

Granger stressed that the difference between being chairman and a panel member, even vice chairman, is enormous. “You write the bill,” she said.

Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, who also leads a subcommittee of the funding panel, is a Granger booster who said, “The chairman is the person that puts the bill together and writes it. It’s an incredibly important position.”

Greg Dahlberg, a consultant who served as a chief staffer on the appropriations panel for years before being the chief government relations official at Lockheed Martin Corp., said, “I would argue that subcommittee chairman is more important than the committee chairman. They’re the No. 1 decision maker. Vice chairman is nice and you do have influence, but it’s not even close to being chairman.”

“It’s a huge plum if she can get it,” he said.