"It makes me sound old," said the 60-year-old Emerson, laughing. "Roy Blunt is older, Todd Akin, Emanuel Cleaver. They consider me the dean of the delegation, and it makes me feel old."
But when U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and Rep. Ike Skelton leave early next month, that's exactly what she'll be. Emerson, who handily won re-election last month against challenger Tommy Sowers, has served in the House since 1997, longer than any other Missouri member of Congress.
And when Emerson, a Republican, is sworn in next month, she'll be returning to the House with a GOP majority that is expected to shake up Congress.
Emerson said she is relishing the chance to do the people's business while providing checks and balances for the Obama administration and a Senate still in the hands of Democrats.
"It will be interesting," Emerson said. "But just because there were overwhelming victories in the House, the people can't expect it to be easy. But we're certainly in a whole lot better position to control crazy spending, but it's going to be tough."
Emerson will be the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Appropriations, which she has served on for more than 12 years. The powerful appropriations committee writes the legislation that allocates federal funds to agencies, departments and organizations.
She also has submitted her preferences for which of the 12 subcommittees she'd like to be on, she said. The steering committee hasn't announced who will be on which subcommittee, but Emerson hopes she stays on House Committee on Agriculture. She also could return to the Subcommittee on Financial Services. She expects also to have one chairmanship, though she doesn't know which one.
"But on the appropriations committee, we can control the spending," Emerson said.
She intends to see to it that the appropriations committee's No. 1 mandate will be to prevent the implementation of President Obama's health care law. Incoming speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has also acknowledged plans to pass a repeal of the health care law, which some refer to as Obamacare.
She also plans to work to pass through the House language that prevents spending to implement cap and trade, a program for reducing carbon dioxide emissions that some say would come at the cost of higher energy prices.
Emerson wants to cut government spending overall, she said.
She pointed out that President Obama had requested almost $1.14 trillion in spending for the 2011 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2011.
A resolution passed by the House last week is $1.089 trillion, which is $45.9 billion less.
"If you could see where these spending levels are for some of the departments," Emerson said. "It's just amazing. We're going to cut some by 45 percent and some by 5 percent and probably some not at all. Our jobs will be tough, I'll tell you. But it needs to be done. ... Some of these agencies haven't been particularly managed well in the last four years. That's going to be our big battle."
She intends to take that job seriously, she said, trying to "cut with a scalpel and not with an ax." The appropriations committee will be calling witnesses for oversight hearings to ask agency heads if they have been spending money responsibly while achieving its goals.
"In the last four years, nobody's been asking these questions," she said. "We'll be doing that and then we'll have to write the budget."
One big difference is House Republicans have pledged to have a moratorium on earmarks.
"We're going to be fighting with the Senate, because they don't have a pledge like that," she said. "But our goal is to keep the spending at '08 levels."
In addition to getting the budget under control, Emerson wants to work on job creation.
"We have our work cut out for us," she said.
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