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Appropriators keep retiring. What does that mean for the spending process?

With all of the swirl surrounding how to keep the government funded, it can be easy to forget the power of a new appropriations bill. Serving on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees remains a coveted position for good reason, as these congressional appropriators wield significant influence in shaping federal spending.

Congressional appropriators play a crucial role in the federal budgeting process. They are responsible for crafting spending bills that fund government programs, agencies, and initiatives. This process allows Appropriations Committee members to boost programs important to their causes and create guardrails for how money is spent. Oftentimes, these committee members have vast experience understanding where funding can be most influential and how to navigate the Administration’s labyrinth of programs to fund their top priorities. It is also one of the few legislative packages (this year notwithstanding) that passes Congress each year.

That’s why it’s somewhat shocking to see the number of influential Appropriations Committee members who have announced their impending retirement in the last month. From House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) to Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA), their vacancies will shake up the balance of these influential committees next Congress.

Here are several ways these early departures (and likely more over the next year) will change the federal spending dynamic:

Loss of Experience: One of the most significant implications of these retirements is the loss of experience and institutional knowledge. The appropriations process is a complex and technical field, and these appropriators and their staff have years of experience navigating the appropriations process. Losing institutional knowledge means there will be a learning curve and differing priorities, which presents risks and opportunities for stakeholder groups who have become accustomed to the current prioritization of programmatic spending.

Partisan Dynamics: Congressional appropriations have historically required bipartisan cooperation to pass spending bills and most subcommittee staff on the Appropriations Committees work hand-in-hand with their counterparts on the other side of the aisle. With the retirements of lawmakers who have a history of working closely with both parties, there is a chance that these members’ replacements will not share that commitment to bipartisanship. This could result in increasingly different appropriations bills if the two chambers are controlled by different parties.

Leadership Changes: The retirements of key appropriators, like Chairwoman Granger, will lead to leadership changes. New committee chairs and ranking members will need time to establish their priorities and leadership styles. Stakeholder groups will have an opportunity to educate appropriators and their staffs on their issues as priorities change based on new leadership.

Uncertainty for Government Agencies: Federal agencies rely on timely appropriations to plan and execute their programs effectively. New appointments on the committees can also lead to more education to new appropriators and uncertainty over how programmatic funding will be handled.

The latest tranche of appropriators retiring is likely not the last. Expect to see several new faces on the Appropriations Committees next Congress, as well as a potential shift in how the committees conduct business.


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