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Mikulski to head Senate Appropriations Committee

Adding to a lifetime of firsts, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., announced Wednesday that she expects to become the first woman chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, succeeding Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, who died Monday.

United States Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

Mikulski’s announcement came after Sen. Patrick Leahy said he would remain as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee rather than take over the top slot on Appropriations.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be expected to follow the great leadership of Senator Inouye, one of my most treasured,” Mikulski said in a statement.

“It is especially gratifying to be the first woman to lead this powerful committee. 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 is expected to be ratified as Appropriations chairwoman by her colleagues at tomorrow’s meeting of the Democratic Caucus.

Leahy, a seven-term Democrat from Vermont, said in a statement that continuing to chair the Judiciary Committee while “maintaining my seniority on the Appropriations Committee will allow me to protect both the Constitution and Vermont.”

Appropriations long has been one of the most coveted committee assignments because the panel holds power over annual spending programs. But the committee has seen its luster fade in recent years because of the inability of Congress to act on individual spending bills and new restrictions on the ability to approve or disapprove special projects requested by lawmakers.

The Judiciary Committee, on the other hand, is expected to play a prominent role in any gun control and immigration legislation that is introduced next year.

Leahy’s decision disrupts what had been expected to be shifts in committee assignments with Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., taking Leahy’s job on Judiciary and Mikulski succeeding Feinstein as head of the Intelligence Committee.

With Inouye’s death, the 72-year-old Leahy has taken over as president pro tempore of the Senate, a position that puts him third in the line of presidential succession after Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner. The largely symbolic position usually goes to the member of the majority party with the most seniority. Inouye, who died Monday at age 88, was first elected as senator from Hawaii in 1962.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s role is defined by the U.S. Constitution, which requires “appropriations made by law” prior to the expenditure of any money from the Federal treasury. It writes the legislation that allocates federal funds to the numerous government agencies, departments and organizations on an annual basis.