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Norm Dicks in line to follow Murtha on defense panel

By Paul Kane
Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), a moderate with close ties to the Boeing Company and lobbying firms relying on defense contracts, is in line to succeed the late John P. Murtha as the top lawmaker overseeing the Pentagon's more than $700 billion annual budget.

No official decision has been made who will succeed Murtha (D-Pa.), who died Monday from complications resulting from gallbladder surgery. But Dicks, first elected in 1976, is the likely successor as chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, where he was second in seniority behind Murtha. On the overall Appropriations Committee, Dicks trailed only Murtha and the chairman of the full panel, Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.), in seniority.

Murtha's successor will face an immediate test of his legislative skills, as the Obama administration is set to send a supplemental funding request of at least $33 billion to Capitol Hill for the troop surge of more than 30,000 troops into Afghanistan. In an early December gathering with reporters, Murtha declared his opposition to the surge but announced he expected the final tab to come in closer to $40 billion once his subcommittee was done "scrubbing" the request.

A large number of Democrats are expected to oppose the funding measure, while most Republicans are expected to support it. Traditionally more of a hawk on military matters, Dicks supported the Iraq war resolution in 2002 but later recanted, a conversion similar to the one Murtha underwent on the war. Dicks also has been a provincial supporter of Boeing, which retains a major plant in his northwestern Washington district.

Along with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dicks has been the leading opponent of an effort to award a tanker refueling contract to a consortium led by Boeing rivals Northrop Grumman Corp. and Europe's EADS, parent of Airbus.

The chairman's gavel on the defense subcommittee is one of the most sought after prizes on Capitol Hill, providing a large degree of power over the military and the defense contractors that feed at the panel's trough. Dicks has been on the appropriations committee since getting sworn into office in January 1977, when he edged out fellow freshman Rep. Al Gore (D-Tenn.) for the coveted slot. Dicks went on to become one of Gore's most trusted allies in Congress, supporting his presidential bids in 1988 and 2000.

The defense subcommittee has come under fierce scrutiny by the FBI in the past decade, with investigations into earmarks doled by the panel's top members, including Murtha. Dicks was one of seven members of the subcommittee to face ethics scrutiny for his ties to the PMA Group, a now shuttered lobbying shop with close relationships to members of the subcommittee. From 2003 through 2008 the lobbying firm and its clients steered $84,000 in campaign donations to Dicks, who helped issue line-item earmarks to the firm's clients. In 2007 and 2008, PMA clients received $20 million worth of earmarks courtesy of Dicks.

However, the Office of Congressional Ethics closed its investigation into Dicks, Murtha and three other lawmakers in December, finding no cause to continue it. The ethics office did recommend a formal investigation be carried out by the House ethics committee for two other members of the committee, Reps. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Todd Tiahrt (R-Kansas).

Dicks currently chairs the subcommittee that funds the Interior Department and other related agencies, which he would almost certainly give up to grab the more powerful post overseeing the Pentagon.

By Web Politics Editor  |  February 8, 2010; 5:38 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Election , 44 The Obama Presidency , Capitol Briefing , Cast of Characters  
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