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House GOP caucus revolt blocks tax overhaul efforts

UPDATED: A split in the House Republican Caucus exploded into the open Wednesday morning, throwing a major tax bill into further jeopardy.

House Republican leaders, led by Speaker Thom Tillis, sought to strip a provision added to the bill a day earlier that added $500 million in cost. But a cadre of Republicans and Democrats joined forces in the Appropriations Committee to block a proposed substitute bill from even being considered.

The move left the House tax overhaul -- the top GOP agenda item this session -- in limbo and the lawmakers bewildered. Committee Chairman Nelson Dollar left the meeting dumbfounded and unable to find the words to explain what happened. Other clumps of Republicans huddled in the corners of the committee room, discussing one of the largest fissures in the Republican Caucus this session.

Nelson Dollar new House budget chair

State Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary is moving into Rep. Harold Brubaker position as senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, House Speaker Thom Tillis announced Monday.

Brubaker retired earlier this year to become a lobbyist.

The other House Appropriation chairs will be Mitch Gillespie of McDowell, Linda Johnson of Cabarrus, Bryan Holloway of Stokes and Justin Burr of Stanly

The House Finance Committee will once again be lead by Rep. Julia Howard of Davie as Senior chair. Other finance chairs are Mitchell Setzer of Catawba, David Lewis of Catawba, and Robert Brawley of Iredell.

Rep. Tim Moore of Cleveland will once again be House Rules chairman.

“The leaders of the major House committees will work hard to protect the interests of their constituents and all North Carolinians,” Tillis said.

Price: One percent of spending

U.S. Rep. David Price said earmarks are a sliver of federal spending.

The Chapel Hill Democrat, who chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said that they make up a tiny fraction of his spending bills.

"This is important, but it's not a major chunk of the federal budget," he said.  

Last year, 120 earmarks worth $415.6 million were in the homeland security appropriations bill, which totaled $40.1 billion. That's just over one percent of the spending.

He said the far more important questions the subcommittee dealt with were how much to spend on immigration enforcement, a major chunk of that budget. Other decisions such as whether to continue funding the F-22 dwarf earmarks, he argued.

"Believe me, that's far more consequential than trying to get a grant for a high-tech firm in one's district," he said.

Still, he said the earmarks process is time-consuming. He estimated it takes up about 10 percent of his time as an Appropriations cardinal. 

Price: Coast Guard pool was needed

U.S. Rep. David Price says that Coast Guard pool was a worthy project.

The Chapel Hill Democrat told Dome that he first learned about the need for a new training pool in Elizabeth City during a tour of the Coast Guard facility a year or two ago.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat, requested the pool as an earmark in last year's budget. He said that it was helpful to have a North Carolina Congressman as a "cardinal" on the Appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security.

But Price downplayed the local connection.

"It's one of those projects that I guess legally is an earmark," he said. "I think it's fair to say that we would have probably written that into the bill even if nobody had requested it."

Price said he has visited a number of facilities that fall under Homeland Security since becoming chairman. The pool was just one of many needs, such as dorms, that he saw at the Elizabeth City facility.

"It was more or less a routine visit as chairman of the subcommittee to see an important Coast Guard facility," he said. "It just happened to be one in my own state."

Butterfield's earmarks process

G.K. ButterfieldHow does an earmark get in the budget?

Here's the step-by-step process followed by Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat who requested $200 million in special appropriations this year.

1. Lobbyists and representatives of businesses and nonprofits drop by one of his offices and ask about earmarks. They are given a form to fill out. "That separates ... the eager from the less-than-eager," he says.

2. Staff screen the requests and present them to Butterfield. He then goes through the list and picks which ones he'll submit. "I look to see if it's meritorious, whether or not it serves the working families within my district and not special interests," he said.

3. Butterfield sends a formal letter for each earmark to the chairs of the 12 House Appropriations subcommittees, known as "cardinals." Starting this year, the amounts were then posted on his official House Web site.

4. The arm-twisting begins. Butterfield approaches the chairs and personally lobbies for his earmarks. In some cases, they ask for more information. Other times, they ask him to rank his requests. "They may say, look you're only going to get three," he said.

5. The cardinals and ranking minority members decide. In North Carolina, U.S. Rep. David Price, who chairs the homeland security, helped Butterfield get a new swimming pool for a Coast Guard station in Elizabeth City last year. "That helps tremendously," he said.

Bill includes $1b for N.C. infrastructure

North Carolina could see nearly a billion dollars in infrastructure cash from the economic stimulus package being considered in Congress.

Most of the money, $802 million, would go to highway and bridge projects around the state, Barb Barrett reports.

Here's how the rest of it breaks down:

* $104.7 million, to the state's Clean Water State Revolving Fund
* $88.8 million, to public transit capital projects
* $358,479, to fixed guideway modernization

The current version of the package is still being debated in the House of Representatives. It was approved Wednesday by the Appropriations Committee, the House's spending panel.

After being approved, the House's transportation and infrastructure committee ran the numbers through the federal highway funding formula to come up with the breakdown.

That transportation formula shortchanges North Carolina a bit, as the state pays more into the federal coffers in gas tax than it gets in return.

A billion dollars doesn’t begin to cover what the state says it needs. North Carolina's Department of Transportation listed 296 "ready-to-go-projects," totaling more than $5 billion, in a recent survey by a national organization of state transportation agencies.

Once the package is passed by the House, it next goes to the U.S. Senate.

Price gets bigger role on Appropriations

North Carolina's senior Democrat in Congress has expanded his reach on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat, was added to the spending panel that oversees environmental and National Parks issues, Barb Barrett. Price was named this week to the Subcommittee on Interior, the Environment and Related Agencies for the upcoming Congress.

The subcommittee's jurisdiction includes the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s largest research facility is in Research Triangle Park. The National Institute of Environment Health Sciences also is located in RTP.

Price will continue his role as chairman of the subcommittee on Homeland Security. That post gives him jurisdiction for the nation’s spending on airport security, border security, federal emergency response and other homeland security issues.

He also will keep his post on the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies.

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