By Borys Krawczeniuk
The region’s least senior congressman now sits on the U.S. House committee that controls all the federal money.
House Democrats elected U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright to the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, one of the most powerful panels because it approves spending before the full House does.
Mr. Cartwright, D-17, Moosic, fills a vacancy created by the resignation of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia. A federal jury convicted Mr. Fattah in June of racketeering, money laundering and fraud.
Former Rep. Don Sherwood was the last local congressman to serve on the committee, serving for 5½ years ending in 2007. Former Rep. Joseph McDade spent decades on the committee and earned wide acclaim in his district for his ability to “bring home the bacon” for local projects.
With the 2011 elimination of earmarks — special appropriations set aside by individual congressmen for local projects — membership on appropriations means less than it once did, but the committee remains hugely influential.
“It’s still a powerful committee,” Mr. Cartwright said. “It still has control over all spending, including discretionary spending.”
With no earmarks, the power to decide on grants for local projects shifted largely to the executive branch and departments overseen by the president. Since his election in 2012, Mr. Cartwright has emphasized obtaining federal grants for local projects. He employs three people who mostly work with local communities and organizations to write grant proposals.
Some current and former congressmen, both Republicans and Democrats, urge reinstituting earmarks. They argue earmarks help convince members to approve federal spending bills they might otherwise vote against. Congress banned earmarks after several high-profile corruption scandals. Critics panned earmarks for years before that, mainly because members often inserted earmarks into spending bills at the last minute and the spending never faced public hearings or scrutiny.
Citing the shift in appropriations power to the executive branch, Mr. Cartwright said even some Republicans privately tell him the ban was a mistake and wouldn’t mind a return of earmarks.
“Stay tuned,” he said.
Mr. Cartwright, 55, now serving his second term, said he aspired to join the Appropriations Committee from the day took the oath of office. He worked to get on the committee by developing relationships on both sides of the aisle. He defeated eight candidates to get the post, he said.
He promised to use his new post to help senior citizens, veterans, children, students, commuters, federal workers, federal contractors and military service personnel.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York, the top-ranked Democratic committee member, welcomed Mr. Cartwright to the committee and called him “a vocal and effective leader” for his district.
Mr. Cartwright’s committee tenure might end quickly if he fails to win re-election Nov. 8 against Republican Matt Connolly of Northampton County. The region’s other congressmen are Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, and Rep. Tom Marino, R-10, Lycoming Twp. Both are in their third terms.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-15, Lehigh, is the only other Pennsylvania congressman on the Appropriations Committee.
Because appropriations members can’t serve on other committees, Mr. Cartwright must give up positions on the Oversight and Government Reform and Natural Resources committees.