Sen. Bob Bennett won a choice committee assignment Thursday. He'll sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which helps set funding levels for every federal program.

Bennett, R-Utah, would not have normally been in line for that assignment. But two more senior senators got off the committee following the Republican takeover of Congress in the November election to serve on other committees. That left four open Republican slots, and Bennett said he ended up the fourth senator.He'll be at the bottom of the seniority heap on the powerful committee. "But everyone gets one vote, and I'll be there."

Bennett also kept his seat on the Senate's Banking Committee. And because of his seniority on that body, he will certainly get the chairmanship of one of the its subcommittees.

Bennett's third choice of committee assignments is Energy and Natural Resources. It's very possible that when those assignments are made later this month he could get that committee as well, leaving him three-for-three in his choices.

"The Appropriations Committee can fund a program or not fund it," said Bennett, who was first elected to the 100-member Senate in 1992. "In the last analysis, (Appropriations) has its thumb on the windpipe on almost everything. I'll make sure my state's projects and activities don't get overlooked or shortchanged."

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Former Utah Sen. Jake Garn sat on Appropriations and used his position to protect the space program, which has a whole series of Utah interests. Bennett said he'll look at saving the space station, with ties to Utah business, and see that Central Utah Project funding keeps coming. "Those two programs were supported by that committee last year, so I don't see a problem. But it's nice to be there when the debate is going on."

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