U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson’s assignment to the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee, which controls the purse strings that fund the federal government, “is a big deal” for her district and the state.
“And would be even bigger if the GOP was in the majority,” University of Northern Iowa political scientist Chris Larimer said about the Marion Republican landing a seat on Appropriations. The committee has vast influence and control over how federal funds are spent on health, education, child care, infrastructure and human services — programs touching virtually all aspects of American life.
Hinson, who defeated Abby Finkenauer, the Democratic incumbent, in November, is the first Iowa 1st Congressional District representative to serve on House Appropriations, according to her staff.
“I am honored to have been selected to serve Iowans on the House Appropriations Committee,” Hinson said. Committee assignments are made by the respective party’s steering and policy panels.
“This means I will have a direct say which projects are funded by (Iowans’) tax dollars, which was obviously a priority for me in the last four years of my time in the Iowa House,” she told reporters Friday.
Her priority on the committee will be to ensure that issues “important to rural America and Iowa aren’t overlooked.” That includes resources for derecho recovery, infrastructure improvement and biofuel investment.
Appropriations Committee ranks among prestige assignments
It’s a “pretty good assignment,” especially for a freshman, added University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle. Assuming she is re-elected, Hinson can build seniority and influence as committee membership changes.
Appropriations is one of the few committees that are designated as “exclusive” by both parties in the House, which means that they are high-priority and powerful committee assignments, Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford said.
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“Hinson’s assignment to it is very much a plum no matter how long someone has been in the House,” he added.
It “certainly ranks among what we call the ‘prestige committees’ along with Rules, Ways and Means, and Budget,” added Cornell College political science professor Megan Goldberg.
How her appointment could play a role in midterms
Although sitting on Appropriations positions Hinson for potential influence over appropriations affecting Iowa, Larimer and Goldberg said the appointment is part of House Republicans’ plans to make midterm gains or win control of the House in 2022.
By putting her on Appropriations, “the GOP instantly elevates her status within the party, which is often done to help members in competitive districts,” Larimer said.
“It certainly signals to potential challengers that they will need to overcome a significant disadvantage in funding,” Goldberg said. Research shows that political donors target members of powerful committees such as Appropriations, she said.
“Extremely close competition for control of a chamber and the rising costs of campaigns leads party leadership to award prestigious committee assignments — in part — to ensure that districts like Iowa’s 1st that just flipped will stay that way in two years,” Goldberg said.
Iowa’s 20-county 1st District, which includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and Marshalltown, is considered a swing district. After two terms of Republican representation, it flipped to Democrat in 2018 and back to the GOP in 2020.
The immediate boost in stature gives Hinson something to campaign on next cycle, Larimer said.
That usually means “bringing home the bacon,” Hagle said, “but as a Republican, it could also mean exercising some fiscal responsibility.”
How Hinson views her role
Hinson indicated that’s how she sees her role.
“There’s no question that the way we fund the government is broken. I see this is as an opportunity to begin to fix the damage that has been done and start the hard work of getting our fiscal house back in order,” she said.
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As a member of the minority party, “I’m going to be a check on that liberal agenda that I expect they’ll be pushing hard to implement over the next two years,” Hinson said. “I can promise taxpayers and Iowans that I’m going to be watching like a hawk. I’m going to do everything I can to protect their taxpayer dollars from being used irresponsibly. I want to make sure we’re pushing for limited funds to be used for things that are important to Iowans’ priorities.”
A subcommittee role could benefit Hinson and Iowa
In addition to sitting on Appropriations, Hagle said it would benefit Hinson to get assigned to one of its subcommittees, such as the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies panel, where she would be able to raise Iowa-specific issues and offer a rural America point of view in a House where many of the leaders, including Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., are from urban districts.
Basically, Hagle said, it’s good for a congresswoman to be on committees and subcommittees “where you can make the argument that it is important for your district and you are helping your constituents.”
Eliminating earmarks could be a boon
A seat on Appropriations once was considered the best assignment because it provided a member of Congress with a seat at the table when funding decisions were being made. That was before Congress banned earmarks, which allowed committee members more influence on where federal funds were spent.
However, some congressional Democrats are talking about undoing the earmark ban. That could prove to be a boon to Appropriations members and their districts, especially if Congress approves a major infrastructure program.
Whether or not earmarks return, infrastructure is likely to be on the table, and Hinson said her responsibility will be to use her committee spot “as best as I can to advocate to bring those resources back here.”
“Infrastructure investment is an economic development driver, especially for Iowa, where we have a lot of rural areas that need some of those improvements,” Hinson said. “So that’s definitely going to be a priority for me.”
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