Mikulski in line to chair powerful Appropriations panel

A series of dominoes fell Wednesday on Capitol Hill that left Sen. Barbara Mikulski in line to take the gavel of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a move that would significantly increase Maryland’s clout in the chamber and make her the first woman to helm the panel.

The death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) Monday left a vacancy atop the powerful spending panel, one that many expected Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to fill. But Leahy announced Wednesday that he was choosing to remain as chairman of the Judiciary Committee rather than move to Appropriations.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is next in line on the spending committee, but he appears to have chosen to remain head of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee instead. That leaves Mikulski next in line at Appropriations.

“It’s an honor & privilege to be expected to follow the great leadership of Senator Inouye as Appropriations Committee Chairwoman,” Mikulski wrote on her official Twitter account Wednesday evening.

Leahy also took to Twitter to say: “Congratulations to my friend @SenatorBarb who will be 1st woman to chair Senate Appropriations Committee. She’ll be great (already is).”

Mikulski had already been in a senior position on Appropriations, but she will now be an even more important player on decisions about spending across the government. She will also be in a key position to influence current and future discussions about budget cuts to reduce the federal deficit.

Powerful as it is, the Appropriations chairmanship is no longer the prize it once was, both because of the current emphasis on austerity and the abolishment of earmarks, which allowed appropriators to steer money directly to favored projects.

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