Senate death brings historic change 

Posted: 9:12 pm Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

By Jamie Dupree

The death this week of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) brought about a historic change on the Senate Appropriations Committee, as Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will take over the gavel of that important panel, becoming the first woman to chair that committee.

“It is especially gratifying to be the first woman to lead this powerful Committee,” Mikuslki said in a written statement.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to fight for the day to day needs of the American people and the long range needs of the nation,” Mikulski added.

While Mikulski’s ascension to the top spot on the Appropriations Committee is certainly newsworthy, what did not happen behind the scenes after Inouye’s death might be even more interesting to legislative geeks.

In terms of seniority, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) was next in line to take over the Appropriations job; many expected he wouldn’t think twice about chairing the panel that has jurisdiction over all spending by the federal government.

But things have changed when it comes to the Congress and spending, and maybe Leahy decided that staying as the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee – with its focus on gun laws and the Supreme Court – would be a better fit.

“Chairing the Judiciary Committee and maintaining my seniority on the Appropriations Committee will allow me to protect both the Constitution and Vermont,” Leahy said in a one sentence written statement issued by his office.

Leahy’s decision to stay as Chairman of Judiciary upended the expected change there as well, which had Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) moving up to become the first woman to chair the Judiciary panel. Instead, she will continue to be the Intelligence Committee chair.

Another Senator also decided to stay put, as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) actually had more seniority than Mikulski, but he decided to remain as Chairman on the Health committee, instead of taking over at Appropriations.

For many of you, the above paragraphs were a bunch of legislative gobbledygook – but for people on Capitol Hill, it signals one thing.

Times have changed.

It used to be that chairing the Appropriations Committee was the ultimate destination for veteran lawmakers.

In other words, you wouldn’t pass up the chance.  

Let me say that again – in the old days, you would never have (expletive deleted) passed up that (expletive deleted) opportunity.

But, maybe bringing pork back home and doling out money isn’t as cool anymore for members of the Senate, especially when you have witnessed the difficult battles in recent years over government spending, and realize the purse strings are only getting tighter in the years ahead.

Times have changed.

The names of the chairs of the Senate Appropriations Committee in recent years are almost all Senate legends: Byrd, Stevens, Hatfield, Stennis, Magnuson, Hayden and Russell are just some of them.

Maybe I’ve just forgotten how Senators back then passed up the chance to chair the Appropriations Committee.

I doubt it.  You wouldn’t see Robert C. Byrd give up the chance to chair that panel for Health or Judiciary.

Times have changed.