Lying in Wait: Shelby Ready for Lead on Senate Panel

By Nancy Ognanovich

Oct. 7 —Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said that after he is no longer chairman of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, he plans to reassert a leadership role on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is more conducive to steering federal money to his home state.

“I'll stay on Banking as a senior member, but I'll spending more time on Appropriations,” Shelby said when asked about his plans in the 115th Congress. That committee is charged with directing how more than $1 trillion is spent annually.

Under GOP rules, a senator can only serve three terms, or six years, as chairman of a committee before he or she has to relinquish the gavel. Shelby said he has maxed out the Banking chairmanship but still could claim the gavel at Appropriations, where current Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) comes up against the same rule in two year's time.

On the other hand, a takeover of the chamber by Democrats could put Shelby back in the role of committee ranking member as soon as January because Cochran already served in that spot as long as the rules allow, Shelby said.

“I've only been ranking on Appropriations two years so I could be ranking four years more—or chairman for six,” Shelby said.

Maxed Out at Banking

Senate Republican Conference rules permit a senator to serve no more than six years cumulatively as chairman of the same committee. In addition, service as ranking member is limited to six years cumulatively on the same committee.

Under the rules, time served as ranking member doesn't count as time served as chairman. But if a senator serves six years as chairman he can't serve as a ranking member unless he is granted a waiver.

Shelby's comments indicate he won't be seeking that waiver. Instead, he said he is going to accelerate his own involvement with Appropriations work, while Cochran exhausts his own time at the panel.

“I'm patient,” Shelby said in an interview. “I'm very patient. Everybody has to wait.”

Cochran, 77, already served the maximum six years as ranking on Appropriations and also served as chairman from 2005 to 2007 and from 2015 to 2017. Reelected in 2014, Cochran could serve two more years as chairman if Republicans retain the Senate in the Nov. 8 election but can't serve as ranking if Democrats take over.

Shelby, 82, fought back a strong conservative challenger in Alabama's Republican primary last spring and now is positioned to easily win a sixth term. He first came to the Senate in 1987 and has served for 30 years.

During the primary battle, Shelby emphasized his seniority and prowess at delivering federal funds to Alabama through the annual appropriations process and revealed his own greater ambitions to chair the committee.

Shelby trounced four challengers and won the March 1 Republican primary with 64.9 percent of the vote. He now is leading challenger Ron Crumpton (D) in the race.

Ranking on Appropriations?

Through all of the 2016 cycle Shelby has been aided by a large war chest financed in part by industries with business before the Appropriations Committee. At the end of July, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that Shelby raised $4.6 million with political action committees and individual contributions, spent $9.8 million in his race, but still had on hand $11.9 million. In contrast, Crumpton raised $25,000, spent $20,000, and had on hand $4,000.

In a reflection of his chairmanship of the Banking panel, Shelby pulled in about $2 million during the current cycle from the financial industry. But he also reported large contributions from the defense, law-related, transportation, and other industries.

The latter included $135, 606 from the National Rifle Association PAC and $31,835 from the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, a 501 (c) group, the center said. While his primary fight dominated his time during the early months of the year, Shelby used his post as the chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science Subcommittee at Appropriations to hold an early hearing on gun rights.

Win With Out-of-State Money

The center said Shelby actually leads the list of incumbent senators pulling in large shares of out-of-state money. That, it said, includes large contributions from the securities and investment industry, including more than $500,000 from New York. Among the largest was the $309,056 contribution from the Citizen Super PAC, which is headed by George Fox, president of Titan Advisors, an investment firm.

Shelby faced criticism for the Banking Committee's recent paucity of work product, including its role in bottling up many of President Barack Obama's nominees for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve (See previous story, 09/02/16). But after seeking out-of-state money to get himself re-elected, Shelby's focus in his next term appears to be on getting more federal government resources to his home state.

Before Congress agreed to a moratorium on earmarks, Shelby was considered one of the chamber's masters of winning projects for his home state. But even without that mechanism, Shelby still has been able to use his varied posts at Appropriations—which also previously included the chairmanship of the Transportation subcommittee—to steer resources and create jobs in Alabama.

Among other things, Shelby used his Appropriations posts to help convince U.S. airlines to provide direct service to Alabama from the Washington, D.C., area and aircraft manufacturer Airbus Group SE to build its first North American assembly plant in the state.

To Bring It Home for Alabama

Shelby's attention may turn back to Appropriations sooner rather than later, however. The lawmaker signaled he will be closely following the development of the year-end package needed to wrap up work on the fiscal year 2017 spending bills.

Shelby said he'll fight any effort to use that package to revive the Export-Import Bank, which he labels “corporate welfare.”

“Anyone who calls themselves a conservative can't vote for that,” Shelby said.

Shelby and other lawmakers successfully opposed using the recently passed continuing resolution (H.R. 5325) to circumvent his effort to keep the bank's board from having a quorum. Without the latter, the bank isn't able to make large loans. But Democrats and some Republicans want to try again in December to eliminate the quorum requirement.

Shelby also will be in position to ensure Alabama shares in whatever additional funds are made available for the Gulf Coast states hit by recent storms. The $500 million provided for Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and other states in the CR was seen as only a down payment on the funding they will need to deal with storm damage.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

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