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Obey retirement boosts Moran's clout

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey's announcement that he plans to retire will set off a shuffle that should result in Northern Virginia gaining more clout on the powerful spending panel.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who is the ninth-most senior Democrat on the appropriations roster, is expected to keep his slot as chairman -- or the ranking member, if his party loses the majority -- of the interior and environment subcommittee in the next Congress. But one of Moran's closest allies in the chamber, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), is widely expected to succeed Obey (D-Wis.) as chairman of the full committee while also keeping his current post atop the defense subcommittee.

"I expect Norm will chair Defense and the full committee," Moran said in a brief interview Wednesday, adding the caveat that the final decisions on gavels will be made by the Democratic leadership.

Moran enjoys what he called a "very positive relationship" with Dicks. Their bond -- forged during their time together on the defense subcommittee -- is closer than the one Moran has with Obey, who has always been more closely identified with spending on social programs. Dicks has long been known for supporting a robust Pentagon budget, and Dicks and Moran learned the ins and outs of the appropriations panel at the feet of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), the longtime Defense spending chair who died in February.

(Dicks and Moran also share a more notorious bond: They were both among the seven lawmakers probed by the House ethics committee for their role in steering spending earmarks to the now-defunct lobbying firm PMA. The ethics panel cleared all seven members in February.)

Moran said he was happy running the interior subcommittee and was not looking for another gavel right now, even if one did become available to him. He will remain a senior member of the defense subcommittee and will also move up one slot in rank at the subcommittee that hands out funding for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. But Moran's strong relationship with Dicks will help boost his influence over all the appropriations bills.

"I'm not going to get into the palace intrigue about who ends up where now, but one thing is very clear: Jim Moran just became significantly more powerful, and that's a good thing for Northern Virginia, whether you're a Republican or Democrat or Independent," said David Marin, a longtime aide to ex-Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) who now lobbies on appropriations and other issues for the Podesta Group.

By Ben Pershing  |  May 5, 2010; 3:23 PM ET
Categories:  Ben Pershing , James P. Moran Jr.  
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