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Murray, as Budget Chairwoman, May Not Produce a Blueprint

Sen. Patty Murray’s office has made public what had been an open secret for several days on the Senate side of the Capitol rotunda: the Washington state Democrat plans to take the helm of the Budget Committee next Congress.

Murray, the outgoing chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who saw unexpected success in expanding the Democratic caucus, will face a new challenge in working with her new her GOP counterpart, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

“I am eager to work with our new Chairwoman and congratulate her on taking the gavel. I hope to work with Senator Murray to find common ground. The Budget Committee has one central purpose and the Chair has one central legal obligation: the drafting, amending, and adoption of a budget plan,” Sessions said in a statement.

Sessions has relentlessly criticized Senate Democrats for not passing a budget resolution in the past few years.

Asked about that criticism during an interview with Roll Call Tuesday in her Capitol Hill office, the new chairwoman sounded a bit like retiring Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., pointing to the August 2011 debt limit deal as a de facto budget.

“We actually did a budget agreement a year and a half ago, so that policy was set,” Murray said. “How you tell the Appropriations Committee how much each committee has [to spend] was set in law, that’s what the Budget Committee does. It was sort of done in a different way last time, but … going forward it’s going to be the same.”

Sources clarified that Murray may not produce her own budget resolution if the president and congressional leaders reach an agreement on the fiscal cliff this year or next, arguing such a measure would be akin to the debt limit deal.

Conrad often explains that the 2011 law that provided for an increase in the debt actually has a stronger enforcement mechanism than a budget resolution drafted by either the House or Senate on its own.

“The Senate is supposed to be the world’s great deliberative body and, when it comes to our finances, the Budget Committee is where that process begins,” Sessions said in his statement. “Enough secret meetings and last-minute backroom deals. The Budget Committee should do its job, as the law requires, in the full, open, and public light of day. I hope Senator Murray will make that commitment.”

Murray, a longtime member of the Appropriations Committee, also wants to see a return to a more regular system of processing spending bills and budgeting after negotiations on the broader fiscal cliff issue. As the Senate co-chairwoman of the bicameral deficit reduction panel that came to be known as the supercommittee, Murray is all too familiar with those debates.

“We’re reeling now, back and forth,” on the generally routine spending questions, Murray said. She cited as an example the uncertainty for funding levels for the Hanford nuclear site in her home state of Washington.

Nonetheless, there’s no reason to expect that Murray would be able to forge a budget agreement through a traditional conference with the House under Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis. In her campaign committee role, Murray was involved in many Democratic Senate campaigns that highlighted unpopular parts of Ryan’s budget plan to criticize GOP opponents.

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