WASHINGTON – Veteran Rep. Jerry Lewis (search) of California is getting a job he started auditioning for a quarter-century ago: chairman of the House committee that determines government spending.
Lewis was selected Wednesday by top Republicans to head the powerful House Appropriations Committee (search). It controls one-third of the $2.5 trillion government budget and serves as an annual battleground between budget cutters and supporters of federal programs.
To prove his fitness to Republican leaders eager to hold down spending, he sent out a reproduction of a campaign flyer from his first House race, in 1978. It shows a bloated Uncle Sam with the tag line, "Uncle needs a diet."
In an interview Wednesday, Lewis, 70, said Republicans "are really anxious about making sure the Appropriations Committee gets on a pathway that involves progressively reducing the growth of spending."
Lewis' selection was set to be approved Thursday, when all House Republicans meet.
Republicans were also set to ratify a decision by their leaders to oust incumbent Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (search), R-N.J., in favor of Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind. Smith has strong allies among veterans' groups and occasionally has been at odds with his own party over money for veterans' programs.
Lewis was chosen over longtime Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, and Harold Rogers, R-Ky. He replaces Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., who had served the full six-year limit that Republicans have placed on committee chairmen.
President Bush is expected to propose a 2006 budget next month calling for tight reins on most domestic programs. All three candidates campaigned for the job on the promise to control spending.
But Lewis' ascension left many conservatives nervous. They long have been the committee's chief critics, claiming the panel wastes money and stuffs the 13 bills it writes annually with too many projects for lawmakers' home districts.
Citizens Against Government Waste criticized Lewis for putting what they said was $13.6 million in "pork" projects for his home state in the 2004 defense bill his subcommittee developed.
Lewis is a former state assemblyman, insurance executive and lifeguard from Southern California who is beginning his 14th House term. He had risen to the No. 3 House GOP leadership job when in 1992 he lost the party post to the more conservative Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, who has since retired.
Also Wednesday, Senate Republicans formally selected Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., to head that chamber's Appropriations Committee. Cochran was not opposed and succeeds Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who had exhausted his six-year term.