Rep. Dicks Expected to Succeed Murtha as Defense Spending Chairman

Monday’s death of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) leaves vacant one of the most coveted and powerful positions in the House of Representatives.

Murtha chaired the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which decides how the Pentagon spends its money. It’s one of the most influential posts on Capitol Hill. In fact, the chairs of the Appropriations Subcommittees are called “cardinals” in Congressional parlance. That’s a nod to the role cardinals play in the Catholic church because of the sway these lawmakers hold over their area of federal spending.

And with Murtha’s death, there are questions about who might succeed him in that slot.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) is the next ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations panel. First elected in 1976, Dicks chairs the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

And House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says it’s likely Dicks will move into Murtha’s old position.

“Presumably he will take that chairmanship,” said Hoyer.

Still, another name mentioned as a potential candidate to succeed Murtha is Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX). 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.

Because the Appropriations subcommittee chairs wield such dominant authority over the federal purse, the panel typically defers to the next senior lawmaker when an opening occurs. House Democrats require their caucus to approve “cardinals” as well as the  Steering Committee, which metes out committee assignments.

A final decision on who may wield the Defense Appropriations gavel might not be settled for a few weeks.