ABC News' Jonathan Karl reports: This week House Republicans will choose committee chairman for the incoming Congress, the leaders who, in large measure, will define the new Republican majority. And no choice is more important than deciding who will be the next chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. So, who will Republicans choose to run the committee that controls the government’s purse strings? Will it be a proven deficit hawk? A fiscal conservative? An avowed opponent of pork-barrel spending? Nope. There are three candidates for the job — all among Congress’s biggest spenders and most profligate spenders. The front-runner is Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky), a 16-term Congressmen who known for funneling taxpayer money for pet projects in his district – and far beyond. Roger’s has brought so much federal money to his hometown (Somerset, Kentucky; population 11,000) that it is known as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. There’s a $52 million National Center for Hometown Security. The tiny airport that received $17 million in federal dollars but has so little traffic that the last commercial airline pulled out in February. And then there’s the Hal Rogers Parkway, which was formerly known as the Daniel Boone Parkway before being renaming for Kentucky’s Prince of Pork. Most recently, Rogers pushed through a $5 million dollar measure this year for conservation groups that work with endangered wild cats. It just so happens that one of the few groups eligible is the Namibia-based Cheetah Conservation Fund. Who works for them? The Congressman’s daughter. Over the past two years, Rogers has pushed through 135 earmarks at a cost of $246 million. About the only House Republicans who can keep compete with that big-spending record are the two other candidates for Appropriations Chairman.
First, there’s Jack Kingston of Georgia, who had even more earmarks (145) at slightly lower a cost to taxpayers ($211 million.) And there's Jerry Lewis of California, who had the most earmarks of all (185) at a higher cost ($316 million). Amazingly, Lewis has been endorsed for the Chairmanship by the California-based group Tea Party Express, which famously supported Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell during their Republican primary campaigns this year. But Republican leaders promise this won’t be the same Appropriations Committee and point out that House Republicans have voted to ban earmarks in the next Congress. For all their past earmarking, Rogers, Kingston and Lewis all supported the new ban. And whoever gets the job will be charged with keeping the promise Republicans made in their ‘Pledge to America’ to cut non-defense discretionary spending by $100 billion. None of them may be what the Tea Party movement had in mind when it comes to federal spending, but one of these men will be put in charge of what is arguably the most powerful committee in Congress. Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner has endorsed Rep. Jeff Flake, R-AZ, to take a junior spot on the Committee. Flake, a proven fiscal conservative known for supporting cuts, will have to settle for being a back-bencher.