The death of Rep. Joseph P. Addabbo (D-N.Y.) Thursday night at the age of 61 is likely to result in the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, which he chaired since 1979, moving farther to the right.
Rep. William V. Chappell Jr. (D-Fla.), who is in line to become chairman, has sided with the Defense Department and against Addabbo in many battles over the military budget. Chappell's record also suggests that he will place less of a restraining hand on future military spending when such issues arise in the subcommittee and at crucial House-Senate conferences where compromise appropriations bills are hammered out.
Addabbo, although heavily outnumbered on his subcommittee by pro-Pentagon conservatives, managed to cut billions out of the defense budget year after year through two interrelated strategies, according to his colleagues. He would set a low target figure for the Pentagon's total appropriation in a given fiscal year and then direct his staff to find marginal programs in the fine print of the budget that could be cut to meet the target.
If Addabbo lost in his subcommittee on big issues such as the MX missile and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), as he frequently did, he would keep fighting in the parent Appropriations Committee and again on the House floor, where he often won.
"Joe used to say, 'I get rolled in my own subcommittee but win on the floor,' " fellow committee member and political ally Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) said. Once the House had passed an appropriations bill, which in recent years was usually for billions less than the Senate version, Addabbo would be a tiger in holding the line in the conference committee, according to his colleagues.
"His neck would bulge; he'd get red in the face and shout across the room at Ted Stevens the Alaska Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense , 'I'm not moving,' " AuCoin recalled. "There was so much affection for Joe on the subcommittee that the members would stick with him. He would make the issue a matter of his personal standing, his pride, and they wouldn't desert him.
"Joe's political genius," said AuCoin, whom Addabbo asked to join the subcommittee to give it a more liberal tilt, "was that he could be a defense critic without being intolerable to the members who opposed him."
Whether Chappell will continue Addabbo's program of killing or shrinking dozens of minor Defense Department programs to bring down the budget will be answered in the coming months. Regardless of his personal leanings on such programs, Chappell will be under pressure to find ways to bring the Pentagon budget down as part of the congressional fight against the federal deficit.
In hopes of keeping at least two liberals on the largely pro-defense subcommittee, comprised of seven Democrats and four Republicans, many Democrats are pressing Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.) or Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.) to apply for the vacancy created by Addabbo's death.
In votes that exemplify their contrasting philosophies, Addabbo favored and Chappell opposed stopping aircraft carrier construction in 1977, deleting production money for the B1 bomber in 1981, cancelling the MX in 1981 and restricting actions of U.S. troops in Honduras near that country's border with Nicaragua in 1985