Dec 13 2012

Argus Leader: Noem to sit on defense panel

House assignments cut to 2 committees in second term

As Congress considers significant defense spending cuts during the next two years, Rep. Kristi Noem will have a seat on the committee overseeing the military.

Noem, just elected to her second term, was appointed on Wednesday to the House Armed Services Committee, a high-profile committee with jurisdiction over Ellsworth Air Force Base and the National Guard.

“As budgets get tighter, it’s important that we focus on our priorities,” Noem said. “I’ll be looking to make sure we always have the resources for the B-1 bomber (and) recognizing that these bases truly are economic engines in rural parts of our state and our country.”

The B-1B Lancer bomber is flown by Ellsworth’s 28th Bomb Wing.

To get the position on the armed services committee, Noem had to give up some of the committees on which she served the past two years. While she’ll stay on the House Agriculture Committee, Noem won’t be serving on the Natural Resources or Education and the Workforce committees anymore.

She’ll be dropping from three committees down to two. Most members of the House serve on two committees, and Noem said House Speaker John Boehner indicated he wanted to cut the number of members such as Noem with heavier workloads.

During the past year, Democrats criticized Noem for missing meetings at all three of her committees. Among Noem’s defenses was that her committee assignments often left her double-booked and forced to choose which meeting to attend.

She said that won’t be the case any more.

“I should have less instances of overlap, which should make it easier to make sure we’re there at all of them,” Noem said.

Pat McElgunn, the executive director of the Ellsworth Task Force, said Noem’s seat on the Armed Services Committee will be an important boost for Ellsworth’s interests.

“Having someone on the committee of jurisdiction for issues related to Ellworth and to the (National Guard) is important ... in terms of having real-time insight into the issues going on on the committee,” McElgunn said.

While Noem could lobby for the B-1 without being on the Armed Services Committee, her new committee will give her more influence. She’ll access more information and get to help shape legislation before it ever hits the House floor

Emily Wanless, a political science professor at Augustana College, called the armed services post “pretty prestigious” and said it should benefit both South Dakota and Noem’s political career.

“Being on a committee that’s important to your constituency is invaluable” for re-election purposes, Wanless said. “It’s one of the most effective techniques for members of Congress. Even if none of the legislation is produced, she can say she’s got her hands on anything” the committee does.

Noem said leaving the education and natural resources committees wouldn’t seriously hurt her influence on those issues. While she’ll no longer vote on the committees, Noem said she’ll still have the connections she’s built with the committees’ members and chairmen.

“I think it’s important to have those relationships,” Noem said. “When that member may serve on a subcommittee I don’t, I can go to them.”

That’s a fair assessment, Wanless said. Friendships with powerful lawmakers can be more effective than a lawmaker’s vote in getting things accomplished, she said.

Ben Nesselhuf, the chairman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, did not return a message seeking comment on Noem’s appointment.

The decisions about committee appointments are made by the House Steering Committee, with input from top leaders such as Boehner. Noem said she didn’t lobby for her committee choices but did express interest in being on the Agriculture and Armed Services committees.

Noem played up her actions on defense-related issues during the past two years, citing an amendment she offered to protect the B-1 bomber and a speech defending the Next-Generation Bomber program. She said her new committee appointment is the next step.

“I’ll have an opportunity through this committee to have a stronger voice,” she said.

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