Congresswomen Flex Power Over $1.3 Trillion in Spending

  • Lowey leads Appropriations, Granger is ranking member
  • Partisan differences trump gender on abortion, immigration

(Updates with Bloomberg Philanthropies disclaimer. The name of the State-Foreign Ops Subcommittee was corrected in an earlier version of this story.)

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey and ranking member Kay Granger have made history by ascending to the top of the longtime male-dominated panel, where they will direct about $1.3 trillion dollars a year in discretionary federal spending.

The Bronx-born Lowey, 81, is the first woman to lead the committee and Texas-native Granger, 76, is the first female to claim the top Republican slot. The veteran lawmakers spent years together moving up the ranks and bonded while developing State Department budgets, fighting efforts to slash spending and participating in fact-finding trips.

They are now charged with navigating what will no doubt be a difficult appropriations season, with newly empowered House Democrats intent on pushing their spending priorities in the face of likely opposition from President Donald Trump.

The controversy over Trump’s demand for more than $5 billion to build a border wall has already led to a government shutdown and an inability of Congress to finish its work on seven fiscal 2019 spending bills.

Given the partisan divide, Lowey admits it’s going to be “hard resolving these issues.”

Lowey backs House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) opposition to Trump’s wall demands while Granger has been leading an effort to derail Democrats’ bills aimed at reopening the government without money for the barrier.

Nevertheless, the women share other priorities, including protecting appropriators’ turf and shielding both domestic and military programs from deep cuts. They both have backed funding increases for the Pentagon and for non-defense programs ranging from agriculture to transportation.

Granger, who most recently headed the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee when Republicans controlled the House, said she enjoys a good working relationship and a friendship with Lowey.

She noted that they had traded off of the chairmanship and ranking member slot on the Appropriations State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee over several years, depending on which party controlled the House. But she also said the current climate brings new challenges.

“I hope we can rise above that,” Granger said. “We learned to disagree without being disagreeable.”

She said there are other areas where the two parties can find ways to promote issues important to women, including “family friendly” provisions in Defense appropriations that are aimed at helping military spouses.

One area of contention is likely to be Planned Parenthood funding through the Title X family planning program, a perennial target of Republicans, including Granger. When the GOP controlled the House they sought to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, a large abortion provider, even though that federal aid is used for other health needs of women such as mammograms.

Planned Parenthood has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and majority owner of Bloomberg Government’s parent company.

Male Bastion

Lowey said the committee has undergone a dramatic change from when she first came to Congress in 1989 after a career that started with running a Parent-Teacher Association at a Queens school. Then the committee had only two women – one Democrat and one Republican – and neither held important posts.

“In fact, it was hard to find a ladies room on Capitol Hill, ” she said.

Granger, a three-term mayor of Fort Worth, arrived in Washington in 1997, the first GOP woman elected to the House from Texas. When she joined Appropriations in her second term and was put on the Defense Subcommittee she was surprised to learn she also would be the first woman to serve on that panel.

She’s still startled that it’s taken so long for women to become chair and a ranking member of a key House committee.

“The last time that happened it was the special committee on the hair salon,” said Granger.

On the Senate side, Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) helped paved the way when she was the first female head of the Appropriations Committee from the end of 2012 until 2015, when she became ranking member when Republicans took control of the chamber.

This year 16 of 30 committee Democrats will be women, Lowey said. Six of them are new members named by Pelosi, who was among the first women on Appropriations.

Half of the panel’s 12 subcommittee chairs also will be women. Lowey said she will keep Foreign Operations while Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) chairs Energy and Water and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) heads Labor-HHS-Education.

Other women heading subcommittees are: Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) at Interior-Environment, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) at Homeland Security, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) at Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.

As a result of Republican losses in the mid-term election, only three of the 23 GOP Appropriations members are women. Besides Granger, they are Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Martha Roby (R-Ala.). Only Herrera Beutler will be the ranking member on a subcommittee: the Legislative Branch panel.

Diversified Staff

This year both Lowey and Granger have tapped women to lead their staffs.

Lowey named Shalanda Young to be majority staff director after Young served as minority staff director and also held a number of other positions at the committee since joining in 2007. She’s worked on five of the committee’s 12 subcommittees. She said this year six of the committee’s 13 top subcommittee staffers will be women.

“We have half and half women and men cardinals on the Appropriations Committee and the staff pretty much follows through as far as gender,” Young said in an interview.

Leading Granger’s staff is Anne Marie Chotvacs. She recently returned to the committee after a two-year stint at Boeing Co., where she was senior director of international operations and policy. Prior to that she spent more than 12 years at the committee, most of them working as a top staffer on the Foreign Operations panel.

Chotvacs said Granger have hired 23 people, 16 of whom are women.

Granger said the current government shutdown reflects a more divisive atmosphere but said she and Lowey will keep working to strike deals.

“It’s much more divided than it was when we were together before,” she said. “I hope we can rise above that, but it goes on.”

With assistance from Madi Alexander

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