Thursday, November 09, 2006

Political power shift could cost Space Coast

Less power, less money.
That equation for Congressional funding could mean the new Democratic majority in the House will harm the Space Coast's interests in Congress.
U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, a Brevard County Republican, will likely retain his seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, but he will be less able to use that position to steer federal dollars to regional projects.
"Recently I got funding for extending the Pineda Causeway out to Interstate-95, and getting things like that in the future is probably going to be more difficult," said Weldon in an interview with FLORIDA TODAY. "Typically, with items like highway projects, majority members get more of them than minority members."

Weldon took office when Republicans took over Congress in 1994 with their "Contract with America" and has operated as part of the majority ever since. He doesn't think Tuesday's power shift mirrors the 1994 turnover.
"I wouldn't call it a sweep," he said. "The main parallel, both in '94 and in '06, is the change was driven by the low approval ratings of the incumbent president.
"Some of the differences, though, I think in '94 it was pretty intense dissatisfaction with a number of the administration's policies, specifically some of the failures of the administration to follow through on campaign promises, like middle-class tax cuts. Bush's biggest problem is the war, which is a different kind of issue."

Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican whose congressional district includes northern Brevard County and Kennedy Space Center, believes the switch to a Democratic majority will hurt the state and region's clout in Congress.
"You have to argue it's a net loss. Florida will have less clout in Washington on Jan. 4, 2007," Feeney said. "But that doesn't mean we can't get things done."
Feeney, the former speaker of the Florida House, said he and many of the Florida Democrats served together in Tallahassee and will be able to work together to advance Florida interests.
On Wednesday, Weldon held conference calls with GOP leaders, discussing how the new power structure could affect them, particularly on the powerful appropriations committee, where Republicans will be less able to guide appropriations.

"There are three Republicans (from Florida) on the Appropriations Committee right now," Weldon said. "And there may be Republicans from other states who will argue that there are too many Republicans from Florida on the committee and one should be taken off."
With less influence on the committee, Weldon worries about funding for projects that are crucial to Brevard County's economy.
"I was hoping to get more funding for NASA, to see if we could get the shuttle replacement online sooner than 2014," he said. "It's Orion, similar to the Apollo capsule. But in an environment where Nancy Pelosi is the speaker -- and she has never been a particular proponent of the space program -- I don't know if that will be feasible."
California has its own space industry, which Pelosi might favor.
As the present Republican leadership is replaced, Weldon said that for personal reasons he is unlikely to seek a leadership role in the minority government.
"I have an 8-year-old son at home, and being in leadership keeps you away from your family even more," he said.

Eight Florida Republicans will step down as subcommittee chairmen next year. Some of the senior Florida Democrats will move into committee leadership roles, including Alcee Hastings of Fort Lauderdale, Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Robert Wexler of Boca Raton.
The freshmen Democrats -- Ron Klein and Tim Mahoney of Palm Beach County -- are likely to get plum committee assignments, perhaps on Appropriations or Ways and Means, to bolster their chances of re-election in two years, party officials said.
Pembroke Pines Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a close ally of Nancy Pelosi, the current Democratic leader who is expected to become the first woman Speaker of the House in 2007.
Wasserman Schultz frequently is mentioned as a rising star in her party's hierarchy.
"We (Democrats) have increased our numbers in the (Florida) delegation," she said. "We have a real opportunity to play a pivotal role in helping to move this country in a new direction."

Florida Democrats believe they can be just as effective advancing the state's common interests like the Everglades, offshore drilling, beach replenishment, hurricane insurance and space.
"In the past, when we had something that was important to the state, our delegation worked together and did the best we could to come to a common position and advance that among the leaders of the House," said Rep. Allen Boyd, Jr., a conservative Democrat who represents a congressional district in the Panhandle. "I know we will continue to do that."

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