CASPER, Wyo. — Rep. Cynthia Lummis said her decision to leave the coveted House Appropriations Committee had nothing to do with the recent purge of so-called radical Republicans from prominent committees and everything to do with better serving her Wyoming constituents.
In January, she will return to the chamber’s Natural Resources Committee after a two-year absence. House leadership asked a number of representatives to step down from their committees Nov. 3; Lummis said she requested the move.
Few in Washington leave the influential appropriations committee. Known as having the power of the purse, it accounts for federal government spending. A move from the appropriations committee to natural resources would be a downgrade in other states. But Wyoming is different. The resources committee has an enormous effect on jobs in the state, Lummis said.
The Natural Resources Committee is a “longstanding appointment position for lawmakers from Wyoming,” said James King, head of political science at the University of Wyoming.
GOP leadership on the Natural Resources Committee allowed Lummis to retain her seniority after the two-year departure. This will give her a better opportunity to rise up the ranks and chair subcommittees, King said. On the appropriations committee, she was only a junior member.
“It’s no surprise,” King said of Lummis' move.
The Natural Resources Committee has the most influence on the Wyoming economy, he said.
Lummis is a member of the Republican Steering Committee, which elects lawmakers to committee posts. She said her move was a “comfortably brokered arrangement.”
On Nov. 3 the steering committee assessed how often legislators voted in line with House leadership. Lummis voted against six of the seven spending bills the appropriations committee brought to the floor. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., voted against all seven bills. He was asked to leave the appropriations committee.
“The divergence of philosophy between my very hawkish votes on spending and the direction of the appropriations committee was a huge factor in my requesting to return to the natural resources committee,” Lummis said.
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Some speculated whether acrimony between Lummis and the chairman stemming from the loss of Wyoming’s Abandoned Mine Lands funds played a role in the change. Rogers was part of a backdoor deal in September in which lawmakers decided to take away Wyoming’s more than $70 million-per-year share of the fund. Lummis said Rogers stopped returning her calls on the night of the deal. After the funds for the state had been lost, Lummis said, Rogers encouraged the Natural Resources Committee to reinstate Wyoming’s slice of the AML pie in late September. It didn't happen.
Lummis' decision to leave the appropriations committee also raised questions after a recent Washington Post story probed her intentions on ranching bills she either authored or co-authored. Lummis and her husband, Al Wiederspahn, own ranches in Cheyenne and Wheatland.
“There’s absolutely no connection,” Lummis said.
The three bills proposed to increase the duration of federal grazing leases, change the negotiation methods for cattle pricing and exclude manure as a toxic substance. Lummis told the Washington Post the bills presented no conflict of interest.
Her return to the natural resources post puts her in a better position to “stand up” to the federal government, she said. The committee oversees public lands, especially in the areas of drilling, mineral production, water rights and endangered species.
“It is arguably Wyoming’s committee in the House,” she said.
In the 113th session of Congress, Lummis will also serve for the first time on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Last year the science committee held a hearing on the science of energy development in Pavillion, according to a release from Lummis' office. The committee will focus on the science of energy production, development, conservation and new technologies like clean coal, according to the release.
"Serving on three committees in the House is not common, and requires special dispensation from House leadership to even be considered for the extra workload," according to the release. "Rep. Lummis earned this rare dispensation to serve on the Science Committee. Newly chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the Science Committee promises to bring much needed oversight to the Obama administration’s penchant for regulations piled on regulations without regard to science."