Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) died on 17 December 2012. Senator Inouye had served as Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Despite having served in the Senate for nearly fifty years, Inouye only became chair of the panel—which oversees allocation of annual federal spending—in 2009. He previously served as chair of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. During his tenure, Senator Inouye supported increased funding for federal programs, including veterans and infrastructure projects, as well as research and development.
After Inouye’s death, there was widespread speculation that there would be a scramble among the lawmakers in line to succeed him as chairman. Much to the surprise of some beltway insiders, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was named the new chair. Two more senior lawmakers passed up the opportunity. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) both decided to retain their current positions as chair of other Senate committees.
Senator Mikulski had previously chaired the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which allocates funds to the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, and the Departments of Commerce and Justice. She will be the first woman to lead the full committee.
Senator Mikulski aims to complete annual spending bills in a timely manner, something that Congress has struggled to do in recent years, and to work in a bipartisan manner. “[I]f we take the time to listen to each other, to respect each other and listen to the needs of the people, we can really work to get more bang out of the buck and get more value for the dollar,” said Senator Mikulski in a speech on the Senate floor. “We can have a stronger economy and a safer country. We can be frugal without being heartless. And at the same time, we can assure the taxpayers that we’ve heard them. They want us to really do a better job with our spending but at the same time they want to see it done in an open and transparent process.”
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