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Leahy, Harkin Turn Down Top Spot on Defense Appropriations Panel

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy will remain chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department and foreign aid, passing up a chance at running the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, who would be next in line, also decided to pass.

That puts Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., in line to run the powerful panel.

Leahy, in a statement released Wednesday, explained his decision as being based on a desire to remain a leading Senate voice on foreign policy.

“Vermonters are outward looking and have a long history of working to make life better here at home and across the globe. I have been privileged to serve as a voice for Vermont on foreign policy matters. That is why I have chosen for so many years to head one of the two Senate committees responsible for U.S. foreign affairs and protecting our global interests,” the Vermont Democrat said.

He added, “This panel is where American values are put into action and funding decisions are made to advance our national security interests, to improve the lives of the world’s poor, and to make the world safer, healthier, cleaner and more prosperous.”

There had been speculation that Leahy, the most senior Democrat on the Appropriations panel after Hawaii Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s death last month, would choose to assume the Defense subcommittee chairmanship previously held by Inouye.

Familiar Turf

A skeptic of military intervention, Leahy would have had expansive power to try to rein in defense spending and the United States’ military presence in places such as Afghanistan. Instead, he opted to remain chairman of the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee, which oversees the international affairs budget, which represents just a fraction of what the country spends on defense. But the subcommittee does wield considerable leverage in bilateral relations, dictating the amount of aid countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt get and under what conditions.

Leahy and his staff have had a constructive relationship with ranking subcommittee Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as well as with their counterparts in the House, subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, and ranking Democrat Nita M. Lowey of New York.

Leahy said Wednesday that he also looked forward to helping Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., “in the new role I expect him to assume as our next Secretary of State.”

Leahy also passed up a chance to succeed Inouye as chairman of the full Senate Appropriations Committee last month, deciding to instead remain at the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., took the top slot at Appropriations, instead.

When it comes to the Defense Subcommittee, Harkin is second to Leahy in seniority on the subcommittee, but a Harkin spokeswoman said Wednesday that he intends to continue as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

Durbin ranks next on the seniority list. His office declined to comment on whether he would take the post.

Dianne Feinstein of California follows Durbin.

Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

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