Meet the New House Money Man

Blog Post
Nov. 12, 2006

Next up in our series of profiles of key players in the upcoming Congressional session is the man who as much as any other will determine Pell Grant funding, Representative David Obey (D-WI). Obey will be the new Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee when Congress begins its new session in mid-January. As Chairman, he will be in a special position to affect education funding. We'll explain that special position, but first, a bit about the Congressman.

Obey represents Wisconsins fightin 7th district and is the third longest-serving Democratic member of the House of Representatives (after Congressmen Dingell (D-MI) and Conyers (D-MI)). He joined the House in 1969, and since then has seen just about everything. Hes served on the Budget Committee, the Joint Economic Committee, and of course, the Appropriations Committee.

According to not so reliable sources, Obey started growing a beard after the Republican Revolution in 1994, and vowed not to shave it off until the Democrats retook the majority in the House. Wither the beard? We hope not.

The new Chairman is a stickler for ethics reform and a Badger on education funding. Hes a partisan warrior who has used his status as the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee to be tough on the Republicans over college affordability, No Child Left Behind funding, and school safety. And that was just October.

But back to the Appropriations Committee. In recent years (and under current Chairman, Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-CA)) the Chairman of the full Appropriations Committee oversaw the whole committee and didnt take a Chairmanship of any Subcommittees. But it hasnt always been that way.

The last time the Democrats controlled the House, Rep. William Natcher (D-KY) was the Chairman of the full Committee and the Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services. Obey assumed these positions upon Natchers death in March of 1994. As of today, Obey is the Ranking Member of the full Committee and the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies.

Now, what model will Obey use in his new position as Chairman? The one laid out by Jerry Lewis? Or Bill Natchers old model? Hell likely come under pressure from some of his colleagues to give up the subcommittee seat. After all, some of those folks have been waiting a long time for a gavel. But our bet is that he keeps the subcommittee seat, and thus full control over education funding.

Regardless, as Chairman of the full Committee, Obey will set the allocation for each subcommittee. Higher Ed Watch thinks that means education programs will likely have a lot more money coming their way than in recent years, and that's the word of the day. Money.