Rep. Denny Rehberg has been named chairman of a key subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
The Montana Republican will head the panel on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies for the next two years.
His appointment was announced by the House Republican leadership on Friday.
He said he would use his new role to kill or at least defund the health care reform bill passed when Democrats controlled the House last year.
The Republican-controlled House is expected to repeal the legislation, which Rehberg calls Obamacare, though a vote has been delayed because of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a supporter of health care reform.
It is widely believed the measure will fall short in the Senate, where Democrats prevail.
If that is the case, Rehberg said, his subcommittee will strive to eliminate funding for key parts of the reform package.
In all, about one-quarter of the discretionary funds allocated by Congress each year fall within the purview of Rehberg's subcommittee.
Rehberg also will sit on the Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee and Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee.
The Montana Democratic Party issued a — somewhat barbed — congratulations on the chairmanship.
“Our congratulations to Congressman Rehberg on his appointment,” party Executive Director Ted Dick said in a statement. “He has a long, well-known history of requesting earmarks through this subcommittee. But we do hope that he doesn't use his new position to try and privatize Social Security or destroy Medicare as he has done in the past.”
Republicans have promised to cut up to $100 billion from the 2011 fiscal year budget, and Rehberg said a good chunk of that will come from agencies over which his subcommittee has oversight.
There will not be across-the-board cuts, he said. Instead, some programs will see substantial cuts, some lesser cuts and others may see increases, Rehberg told a telephone press conference Friday afternoon.
"We find ourselves in a position where we are going to have to make some difficult choice," the Billings lawmaker said.
Pell grants, which help college students pay for college, have seen a marked increase in recent years and will have to be reviewed, he said.
Rehberg said he hopes to be an advocate for rural America on the committee.
He said urban lawmakers, especially those from the east and west coasts, often fail to see the problems plaguing rural states.
"Rural education is different than urban education, rural health care is different than urban health care," he said.
Rehberg wouldn't say whether his appointment to the powerful chairmanship will encourage him to stay in the House. He has reportedly discussed with top-level Republican leaders the possibility of challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in the 2012 elections. GOP leaders have targeted Tester's seat as one they can pick up in their effort to regain control of the Senate.
He said he would make a decision "down the road," about whether to challenge Tester.
Pressed by a reporter from Politico, the Washington-based political website for a timetable, Rehberg repeated "down the road."
(Senior reporter Tim Leeds contributed to this report.)