Patty in the News

Patty Murray will be the U.S. Senate’s chief budget writer next year when Congress convenes for its new session.

The Washington Democrat announced Thursday she will seek the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee, a position that becomes open next year with the retirement of Sen. Kent Conrad, of North Dakota. Although her role won’t become official until the new Congress meets, Democrats will hold a 55-45 majority in the chamber, so the result is a foregone conclusion.

The committee also considers the nation’s economic policy and the budgetary impact of “everything we do and everything we fight on,” said Murray, who has served on the panel for 20 years and is the senior Democrat. She hopes to expand the discussions, which in recent years have focused on debt and deficits, to consider the other side of the budget: the nation’s spending priorities and the investments it should make.

“It gives me a really good place to fight for the priorities of Washington state,” she said, such as the cleanup of waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, better transportation systems, military and veterans issues and improved job training for health care and aerospace workers.

Leaders of the two chambers’ budget committees won’t be involved in today’s meeting at the White House to discuss ways for the nation to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and program cuts that take place at the end of the year unless Congress acts. But they will be involved in working out the details of whatever broad agreements President Barack Obama reaches with leaders of the House and Senate, she said.

The mandatory spending cuts and tax increases are pending because a special joint committee of Congress, known as the “supercommittee,” failed to find a budget solution last year. Murray was co-chairwoman of that panel. That experience didn’t discourage her from seeking the lead of the Budget Committee; instead, it made her more willing. “I realized how important it is to do this, and get it right,” she said.

The top Republican on the panel will be Sen. Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, who she acknowledged is “very, very conservative.” They’ve known each other a long time, worked together on a few issues and clashed on others, she said. That’s likely to continue.

In a statement Thursday, Sessions criticized Senate Democrats for failing to pass a budget for three years and hoped Murray would change that streak: “Enough secret meetings and last-minute, backroom deals. The Budget Committee should do its job, as the law requires, in the full, open and public light of day. I hope Senator Murray will make that commitment.”

Murray heard that from Republicans repeatedly during the campaign season that Senate Democrats hadn’t passed a budget. That ignores the fact that they passed the Budget Control Act last year which set spending levels, she said.

In assuming the chairmanship of the Budget Committee, Murray gives up her chairmanship of the Veterans Affairs Committee, where she had established herself as a leader for programs to help former members of the nation’s armed forces. She remains on the Veterans Committee and says she will “take that passion with me” to the chairmanship of the Budget Committee.

- The Spokesman Review