In a Congress of hot tempers and sharp tongues, Murray doesn’t favor over-the-top rhetoric. Once dismissed by a Washington state representative as just a “mom in tennis shoes,” she’s turned the moniker into a campaign symbol of determined strength.
Murray, colleagues agree, doesn’t issue idle threats.
“Everyone takes Senator Murray seriously because she does not bluster,” Reid said. “She simply says what she means and stands by it.”
Her perspective is born in part from the last tough task Reid handed her, chairing last year’s bipartisan “supercommittee,” a 12-member panel that tried, but ultimately failed, to come up with a major deficit reduction package acceptable to both parties.
Murray spent long hours behind closed doors with House and Senate Republicans and emerged convinced the GOP was offering only damaging proposals to cut health, education and environmental programs without agreeing to ask the wealthy to pay more in taxes.
“The experiences she has had and the leadership she has shown carry a lot of weight with her fellow senators. When you see someone of her reasonableness and moderation saying something, you take it seriously,” Reid said.
The episode gave Murray new cachet with liberal allies who are now nervous the White House could give too much to get a deal to avoid going over the cliff, agreeing to major cuts to Medicare or Social Security.
If President Obama does reach a deal with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) this month, Murray’s blessing could boost a package that might otherwise be hard for fellow senators to swallow.
Likewise, her objections could stop a developing deal in its tracks.
Murray has quietly played that role twice before in the monumental budget debates that have unfolded since Republicans swept into control of the House in 2010.
In the crunch of final negotiations over a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling last summer, it was Murray who nixed the idea of exposing veterans benefits to automatic domestic and military spending cuts that would result if Congress does not reach a more targeted deficit-reduction deal by the end of this month.
“Joe, Patty Murray is one of the driving forces in my caucus. If she doesn’t like it, she’ll kill the bill,” Reid told Vice President Biden when he called to broach the idea during talks. He then turned to Murray, who was seated across from him. “Patty, do you like it?”
“No,” replied Murray, chairman of the Senate’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “I’ll kill the bill.”
Republicans agreed to shield veterans funds.
It was Murray, too, who had counseled Democrats in April 2011 to reject a last-minute demand by House Republicans to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood in a spending bill designed to avoid a government shutdown.