By Sara Sorcher
In early 2011, Rep. Kay Granger wrote her first spending bill as chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee when Tunisia and Egypt were in the throes of democratic transition after ousting longtime leaders. The newly tapped "cardinal" insisted that funding was dependent on recipients not crossing U.S. national-security interests.
"If the worst happens," the Texas Republican said of her mind-set at the time, "then we won't fund."
What a difference a year makes. Granger is navigating tricky terrain: The money keeps flowing even when the recipients are proving to be less than reliable. In March, the Obama administration waived congressional conditions, which Granger supported, on Egypt's $1.3 billion military-aid package, despite Cairo's crackdown on U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations. And the Palestinian Authority's bid for U.N. membership last September came in the face of warnings from Congress that such action imperiled its aid package. After a push from the State Department, Granger grudgingly lifted her hold on Palestinian aid.
Anticipating more turmoil this year, she is considering toughening restrictions on aid coming out of her subcommittee. Despite her differences with the administration, Granger believes in keeping the lines of communication open: "You have to keep saying, "Here's what we're doing, tell me what you're doing, how are we working together--are we still on the same team?' "
Granger joined the subcommittee as ranking member in 2009 and took the helm last January.
Reflecting on what the foreign-policy establishment thought of her, she recalls that people wondered, ""Is she going to cut everything? Does she understand the importance [of aid]?' " Granger said. "No. I'm on the team to say, "How do we achieve our goals, and how do we make a difference?'"
Granger, a former Fort Worth mayor and insurance-agency owner, proved to be a conservative appropriator, achieving "major" cuts in funding levels last year for the likes of State and USAID. But she also defends the budget to colleagues who are more eager to ax international programs. On Mexico, for instance, Granger argues: "That's our southern border. Don't we want our neighbor to be safe, to have a good economy?"
"There are some that say, "That's their problem,' " Granger said. "I say, "Well, I completely disagree with that.' " Granger never anticipated her important position in foreign policy. She first joined the Armed Services Committee because her Fort Worth district was home to a plethora of military contractors, including Lockheed Martin.
After seeing issues from a "national-security prism versus a jobs prism," Granger made an unusual transition to Appropriations. She helped oversee U.S. bases all over the world on the Military Construction Subcommittee and became the first woman to ever serve on the Defense Subcommittee.
Her relationships with Egypt's Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and other foreign military leaders made her a key player during the diplomatic calamity that arose earlier this year when American nongovernmental organization workers were detained in Egypt after being accused of illegally operating pro-democracy programs. Among those held was the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who served in the House alongside Granger.
"There were a number of people suggested to help resolve the crisis, but the first name that came up was Kay Granger," said International Republican Institute President Lorne Craner. A call from Granger, who sits on IRI's board and represents a district that manufactures F-16 fighter jets, "would mean a great deal to the Egyptians, because they knew her and trusted her." It helped also, Craner said, that "she's not a showboat on these issues." Likability has helped Granger get where she is. She's known for her bipartisanship--she's a moderate on social issues--and she describes ranking member Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., as a "good friend" with whom she talks every day and respects greatly. "On the big things, we really agree," Granger said. "[When] we get to issues we don't agree on we agree to disagree in a very civil way."
All of this is welcome news in Washington's development community. Mark Green, a retired ambassador to Tanzania and a former Republican House member from Wisconsin, notes: "People are always concerned that issues could get demagogued, overtly partisan. Kay Granger doesn't do that."
Green, who sits on the Millennium Challenge Corporation's board, said that Granger pulled him aside at a social event last year. "[She said]: "Look, I want you to know, I really admire what the MCC does, and I'm doing my best to make sure it has sufficient funding to push its goals.' "
Although "we didn't get everything we wanted" at MCC, Green said, "You come away saying: "OK, I may not agree with all the decisions she reaches, but I do believe she has given me time and considered my point of view.' "