Sen. Patty Murray plans to leave her bully pulpit as chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and seek a greater role shaping federal spending as the leader of the Senate Budget Committee.
We’re planning to speak with Murray later today. She intends to remain on Veterans Affairs, a committee that she used to draw attention to long waits for patient services in the VA and to push for improved behavioral health services in the active-duty military.
“I think what’s been lacking from our discussion for a long time is really that other part of what a Budget chair does, which is set the priorities for this country in terms of making sure we invest in the right places, in education, in job training, and to make sure we do a balanced approach moving forward,” Murray told Politico.
“I am fighting for those middle-class families who want us to deal with our debt and deficit, but they also want the investments that are critical to our country moving forward. And I want to help them understand why this word ‘budget’ is so important to them,” she added. “It’s about whether their kids get access to college, or we have an ability to create the infrastructure for our roads to bring new jobs here, or we have job training, and a really deep concern of mine, that we are ready to take care of the veterans who are returning home by the hundreds of thousands.”
Politico reports that Democratic leader Sen. Harry Reid likely won’t finalize the committee assignments until as late as January. Murry is the No. 4 Democrat in the Senate, and she is seeking to succeed Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota as the leader of the Budget Committee. Murray was the No. 2 Democrat on the committee.
Last year, Murray led the so-called budget Super Committee. It was charged with crafting a deal to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion or risk triggering painful defense and domestic spending cuts that were supposed to be so unthinkable that they would compel a compromise.
The bipartisan group could not make a deal, setting in motion one part of the looming “fiscal cliff” at the end of this year.
There’s still time to avert the painful defense and domestic spending cuts in the sequestration triggered by the Super Committee’s inability to reach a compromise.
Murray has been among the Democrats who have said going over the cliff could give lawmakers an opportunity to raise tax rates on wealthy Americans while maintaining Bush-era tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 a year. That’s one way for Democrats to take control of the debate about tax rates from Republicans.
Still, she insists that’s a last resort for lawmakers.
“No one wants sequestration to happen. It is just about the wrong way to do anything,” Murray said at an October meeting with the South Sound Military and Communities Partnership.
Murray is coming off a successful turn as leader of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Her party gained two seats in the Senate despite an electoral map that had more vulnerable Democratic seats in play than Republican ones.
She has used her position on Veterans Affairs to push for reforms in the VA and for current service members. Early this year, she pressed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to launch a review of PTSD services across the military following complaints about variances in diagnoses at Madigan Army Medical Center.
Murray also has pressed the VA to speed up the backlog of pending cases for retired service members waiting to get care.