John Salazar says he didn’t ask for Cabinet post | AspenTimes.com

John Salazar says he didn’t ask for Cabinet post

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

**FILE**This is a file photograph taken on Nov. 20, 2004, of U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., front, and his brother, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, on their family ranch east of Manassa, Colo., after both were elected to their respective federal posts. John Salazar is under consideration for the post of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture with the incoming Obama administration. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

DENVER ” Colorado Rep. John Salazar says he never asked to be Agriculture Secretary ” but he’s been talking with House leaders for weeks about getting a spot on the most coveted committee in the chamber.

Salazar, a Western Slope Democrat and potato farmer, had been mentioned as a possible Cabinet agriculture pick by President-elect Barack Obama.

That possibility ” promoted especially by Salazar’s own brother, Sen. Ken Salazar ” appears unlikely after John Salazar accepted an assignment to the House Appropriations Committee, which decides how federal tax dollars are spent.

Salazar told reporters Thursday that he’d talked as recently as a week ago with Obama transition officials about leading the Department of Agriculture but didn’t ask for the job. He said he did lobby House leaders for a spot on the budget-writing committee.

“This assignment makes it very difficult to leave Congress and the district I love very much,” Salazar said.

His appointment marks the first time in decades Colorado has had a seat on the House Appropriations Committee, though retiring Republican Sen. Wayne Allard sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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Plum committee assignments usually go to long-serving members, so a state like Colorado, where voters are more prone to turn out incumbents, can be at a disadvantage in Congress. Salazar says he’s aware that as the committee’s most junior member, he won’t be driving budget decisions just yet.

“I’m sure I’ll serve as coffee boy for a long period,” he joked.

But Salazar says he intends to stay in the House long enough to make the appointment worthwhile. “I plan to be here as long as the people of the 3rd District continue to have me,” Salazar said.

A spot on Appropriations could be as valuable to Colorado as having a native son on Obama’s cabinet, said Colorado State University political scientist John Straayer.

“It’s a definite plus for Colorado,” said Straayer, who pointed out that Cabinet secretaries often serve at most eight years, while budget writers in the House can stay put for decades.

To join Appropriations, Salazar will leave his three current committees ” Agriculture, Transportation and Veterans Affairs. The budget-writing committee is so time-consuming members typically serve only there; Salazar has said he’ll seek subcommittee jobs related to transportation and farming.

Salazar says his toughest challenge on Appropriations will be balancing the needs of the nation against a soaring national debt.

One of 47 House Democratic “Blue Dogs,” a group of fiscal conservatives, Salazar says he favors pay-as-you-go spending requirements for Congress.

But he told reporters Thursday that the financial crisis makes him amenable to considering Obama’s call for billions of dollars of investment in public infrastructure, and that Salazar might favor plans to require payback within five years instead of one.

“We’ve been talking about a pretty hefty stimulus package,” Salazar said.

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