Alabama Senator Shelby Selected to Chair Powerful Spending Panel

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Republicans on the Appropriations Committee selected Alabama Senator Richard Shelby as their new chairman on Monday. The choice is subject to ratification Tuesday by the full Senate, the senator said.

Shelby will take over from Thad Cochran, the Mississippi senator who resigned at the beginning of this month for health reasons.

The senator’s ascension to the chairmanship may prove beneficial to Austal Ltd., which builds the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships in Mobile, Alabama; Alabama-based Regions Financial Corp., and Airbus SE, which has an airplane assembly plant in the state. The Appropriations chairman has broad power to steer federal spending and use federal spending bills to attempt to influence or block regulations, including those affecting the financial and aviation sectors.

Shelby has pushed to end the Export-Import Bank, whose largest customer is Airbus rival Boeing Co., and has sought to reduce the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by making its annual budget subject to congressional approval.

Over the years, Shelby has worked to boost spending on NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as furnishing his state’s Anniston Army Depot and the Redstone Arsenal’s missile defense command facility.

"Clearly he’ll be in a position to serve Alabama’s interests," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group. He predicted that the chairman will ensure robust funding for naval shipbuilding and research that could be conducted at the University of Alabama.

"Anything that could be shipped to Huntsville would be shipped to Huntsville," Ellis said.

One of the new chairman’s first acts may be to handle a request from the Trump administration to rescind billions of dollars in spending from a massive federal spending bill enacted last month.

On Monday, Shelby expressed skepticism about the effort.

“I’d like to see what the particulars are and what it’s about. If we agreed to something I want to keep my word. If we didn’t agree to it that might be something else,” he said.

Shelby will give up his role on the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, a less important post concerned with internal congressional housekeeping matters.

He served as the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee from 2003 to 2007. He has played a major role in crafting a bill to exempt community and regional banks from some aspects of the Dodd-Frank financial law. That measure awaits House action after passing the Senate.

Shelby joined the Senate in 1987 as a conservative Democrat. He switched parties in 1994 and later joined the Appropriations panel that he will now lead.

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