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Published: Sunday, 3/25/2007

Kaptur says devotion to district drives her Capitol Hill efforts

BY MARCY KAPTUR
MEMBER OF CONGRESS
Kaptur Kaptur
THE BLADE/HERRAL LONG Enlarge | Buy This Photo

I appreciate the coverage of The (Toledo) Blade throughout my political career, but the recent editorial might have misled readers. It is simply incorrect to say that "just as Democrats regained control, she rejected the chairmanship she had worked so long to obtain." That's not what happened.

First of all, it was not when the Democrats took control this year but actually more than two years ago when I made the decision, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, one of the two or three most powerful committees in the House of Representatives, to seek a spot on the coveted defense subcommittee currently chaired by Congressman John Murtha (D., Pa).

When the now-disgraced Tom DeLay (R., Texas) was running the House of Representatives with an iron fist, he eliminated three of 13 appropriations subcommittees with control over domestic spending, including my lead committee, veterans administration/housing and urban development/EPA/NASA - known as VA-HUD. That single authoritarian move by Mr. DeLay cost me 16 years of seniority on the VA-HUD subcommittee, where I was second-ranking and on my way to being chair. He did this in order to extract NASA, based in his state, and exert more direct control over its decisions.

In contrast to other House committees, appropriations recognizes seniority by subcommittee. Consequently, Mr. DeLay's high-handed actions forced many appropriations members on three subcommittees to rebid on our subcommittee assignments. The "choice" that I had to make, therefore, was not my own, but was actually forced upon me by Mr. DeLay when the Republican Party controlled the House.

As luck would have it, shortly thereafter, I used my seniority to bid on an open seat on defense, which is the most sought-after appropriations subcommittee and which controls the largest departmental budget by far - approaching half a trillion dollars a year - and generally opens only to the most senior members. Frankly, it was an opportunity no member would refuse.

Indeed, the fact that I won a seat on defense received little press coverage, even though I was the first Democratic woman in U.S. history to do so. With America at war and the serious threat of global terrorism still confronting our nation, the defense subcommittee plays a crucial role in protecting America's national security. It is our subcommittee that has the lead on writing the bill that sets a timetable for redeploying U.S. forces in Iraq beginning no later than March of 2008, fully funds our troops and veterans, and requires measurable results from the administration to fight the real war on terrorism.

It is true that I could have remained ranking member of the agriculture subcommittee, where I was in line to become chair in the event that the Democrats regained control of the House, but not without passing on the opportunity to serve on the defense subcommittee. So, essentially more than two years ago I traded my seniority on agriculture for a spot on defense. Fortunately, again due to seniority, I was able to reassume a seat on agriculture, though not as ranking member, as well as add a third subcommittee, transportation/housing and urban development. With the benefit of two years of experience, I would make the very same decision today.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, left, is the lone woman on the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, left, is the lone woman on the House Appropriations Committee.
MICHAEL TEMcHINE/SPECIAL CONTRIB / FREELANCE Enlarge

Most recently, my interest in the economy and jobs resulted in my appointment by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the House Budget Committee, as a designee of the Appropriations Committee. I agreed to serve not because it brought personal recognition, but because it was the best decision for the 9th Congressional District, and with my experience, I believe for our nation too.

Early on in my service on the defense subcommittee, I was able to play a key role in saving 1,000 jobs at the 180th Tactical Fighter Squadron, a base which the military could not walk away from, I believe, because we had modernized it with over $20 million I appropriated during my two decades of service. The excellence of our unit and superb training facilities and equipment at the facility are a credit to the men and women who dedicate their lives to our nation.

The allure of being a chairman, while glamorous to some, paled in comparison to what I could accomplish for my district and nation from a position on defense along with the breadth of the additional subcommittees. Literally, the committees on which I serve involve a quarter of the membership of the House, positioning me with a close working relationship across the breadth of the institution.

Though The Blade sadly closed its Washington bureau, my work in Washington has been well covered by the national press in the void. This week's lead story in Politico details my efforts to investigate whether high-profile Republicans used their influence to help a firm win a private maintenance contract at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

I am concerned about the growing role played by contractors and the privatizing of our military, including in theater, as dangerous to the fundamental principle to which our military is pledged ... duty, honor, and country. Many firms, including the Lima tank plant which makes the Stryker vehicle so important to our soldiers, make a point to bring me their ideas even as other companies are taking a new look at the 9th District and the many industrial and transportation opportunities northern Ohio affords.

Our region has never received its fair share of defense contracts due to the overwhelming influence of members from southern states. I hope to start to correct that imbalance. As a citizen from Maumee wrote this week following your article, "With half of the budget projected to be defense spending, follow the money [and] get jobs for our skilled work force we don't need another generation [to] migrate away like 25 years ago."

The condition of our nation's military and veterans' hospitals and clinics remains a critical issue and one I learned well as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committees for over two decades. Just in this defense bill, I was successful in arguing for over $800 million dollars in support of serious brain injury, PTSD, and neuro-psychiatric care for our returning veterans.

Transportation is crucial to our region's economic future and I welcome my new responsibilities on the transportation/housing and urban development subcommittee. Our citizens will certainly not forget our successes emanating from the House such as the I-280 Glass City Veterans Memorial Skyway - the largest transportation project in Ohio history - the Buckeye Basin Greenbelt Parkway, restoration of Union Terminal on the high-speed rail corridor, Millard Avenue overpass, Fort to Port, modernization of our airports, and work to modernize the St. Lawrence Seaway system.

When elected to the Appropriations Committee, I was the youngest woman in history ever elected. I have now served on over half its subcommittees and gain in knowledge each day. Constituents who viewed the committee's proceedings last week commented that their representative was the only woman on the chairman's dais. At our first full gathering of the committee in the new Congress, I too was struck by that occurrence. Achieving such seniority on the full committee is indeed no small accomplishment and one which is wholly owned by the people who elect me their representative.

As the Sun Belt states gain seats in Congress, and the Great Lakes lose seats, my committee position becomes even more precious. Our region has been struggling economically during the entirety of my service. It has been a hard road for our area and also a hard road in Congress to draw attention to what the industrial and agricultural heartland face.

Your article and others will attest I have never fallen in with the big money crowd in Washington - still maintaining the pledge I offered 24 years ago not to take [campaign] contributions from the utilities or oil companies that have a chokehold on our region's jobs potential - but I appreciate The Blade acknowledging my record of hard work and accomplishment for our region.

I believe I am better positioned than ever to serve and deliver for the 9th District and northern Ohio, as well as our nation, year after year.

I invite constituents to visit our online congressional office at www.house.gov/kaptur to learn more. Thank you to the citizens who place their confidence in me to make life better for all.



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