In office since 2006, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is finally getting the kind of position that federal lawmakers spend their career waiting for: a top post on a powerful subcommittee that controls a mind-boggling amount of money.
Lamborn served his time as a back-bencher on the House Armed Services Committee, but moved up this year to the top Republican post on the panel’s subcommittee on readiness.
The House was radically reshaped by voters last fall, with Democrats talking command, but Lamborn says the committee assignment as ranking minority member remains a big deal for Colorado.
“It is almost $250 billion that flows through this subcommittee,” Lamborn said. “It’s one-third of the defense budget and one-sixth of the country’s discretionary spending.”
As the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, he will be responsible for wrapping up GOP’s votes on decisions, and that could bring big dollars to local bases.
Lamborn's Colorado Springs-based 5th Congressional District is one of the nation’s most military-heavy districts and includes the lion's share of Colorado's military installations, including the Army's Fort Carson, Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases, NORAD and the Air Force Academy. It hosts 40,000 active-duty troops and also is home to a large veteran population.
Top missions of the district's bases include running the military’s constellation of satellites, controlling missile defense and defending the continent from attack.
“While looking out for national security, I can also look to the needs of the local installations,” he said.
The congressional readiness panel oversees the readiness of troops, policy issues, logistics, and military construction.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity to make sure our brave men and women have some of the best training and equipping in the world,” Lamborn said.
It has been a long climb for the congressman to reach the heights of the House committee structure.
The House, even more than the Senate, ranks members on seniority to move through the various positions on the way to becoming a subcommittee chair or ranking member. But getting the position also takes a modicum of political wherewithal.
Lamborn is a favorite of the GOP leadership. He’s been repeatedly named the most conservative lawmaker on the Hill, and he has done the bidding of his caucus, even when it meant joining Team Trump after backing Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2016 presidential primary.
To get the military job, Lamborn had to give up his first top subcommittee post.
In 2017-18, Lamborn served as the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee panel on energy and minerals. That put him in charge of regulation of oil drilling and mining -- a lesser post, but one that still had cachet on Capitol Hill.
The Natural Resources budget, split from many federal pots, remains minuscule compared to the country’s defense funding.
Lamborn said while mining and oil are important for Colorado, his new post “is important for my district.”
Lamborn will have a big job to maintain planned growth in defense spending. The Trump administration is seeking a $750 billion defense budget, but that could fall victim to automatic budget cuts that are back in force for 2020.
Those cuts, approved under an Obama-era deficit-cutting plan, would carve more than $50 billion from defense.
He’s also looking at a fight with the White House.
He says the military presence in his district, and the price its residents have paid in blood, is why he’s split from President Donald Trump over the administration’s plans for a rapid withdrawal from wars in Afghanistan and Syria.
Lamborn said he’s all for peace, but he wants U.S. troops on the ground until America’s enemies are dealt with.
“We don’t want that sacrifice to have been made in vain,” he said.
The readiness post will also put Lamborn in a key position to decide the future of Trump’s proposed Space Force. Trump wants a new service branch to oversee space because he says the Pentagon has lost focus on the growing capabilities of rival powers.
Lamborn wants a Space Force, too. But he wants it to stay in Colorado Springs, where the military has managed its space operations since the 1980s.
Trump has ordered the creation of U.S. Space Command, a headquarters that will oversee space missions for all armed services.
“I will be pushing for U.S. Space Command to be in the Pikes Peak region,” Lamborn pledged.
How well Lamborn can leverage his new position will depend heavily on the new majority on the other side of the aisle. Democrats have flexed their House muscle by refusing to back Trump’s call for a border wall even during a lengthy partial government shutdown.
Lamborn, while he’s a tried and true Republican, said he can get along with the Democrats.
“Armed Services is one of the most bipartisan committees,” Lamborn said. “Not that we don’t have philosophical arguments."
The committee is a comparative bipartisan paradise, according to Lamborn, who is working with the new Democratic chairman, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, who represents the Seattle suburbs.
The unity is more due to the threats America faces than some novel political shift. Lamborn said every member of the committee is keeping a wary eye on China and Russia.
“The emphasis is beginning to shift to a near-peer competition,” Lamborn said. “Russia and China — they have very capable and well-funded national defenses.”