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Collins set for top GOP spot on Defense appropriations panel

The Maine senator will be the most senior Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

Susan Collins, R-Maine, is poised to become the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
Susan Collins, R-Maine, is poised to become the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

In the next Congress, Susan Collins of Maine is expected to be the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s powerful Defense panel, sources say.

Collins has been considered a lock for the top GOP slot on the full Appropriations Committee, but it was not previously clear who would lead Republicans on the Defense panel.

Whether Collins will be the chair or ranking member on those panels is to be determined by which party has the Senate majority starting in January.

As the top Republican on the full committee and the Defense panel, Collins would fill two roles performed simultaneously in the current Congress by Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, who is retiring after this year. 

But the trend began before Shelby. Senate committee leaders from both parties have long held both full committee and subcommittee chairs, whether on the Defense panel or others.  

Several recent Appropriations chairs have run the Defense panel at the same time, including Republicans Ted Stevens of Alaska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi, plus Democrat Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii. 

As for Senate Democrats in the next Congress, Patty Murray of Washington is slated to take over the Appropriations Committee’s top role, either as chair or ranking member, in place of the retiring Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont.

There’s no sign at the moment that Murray would take over the Defense subcommittee. She is currently the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee’s top Democrat, and a caucus rule change at the start of the current Congress stipulated that more junior members should get subcommittee leadership posts. That rule is partly why Montana’s Jon Tester is now the Defense subcommittee’s top Democrat.

There is no indication as of now that Tester would not keep that job if Democrats retain control of the chamber or become ranking member if Republicans secure the majority.

Leadership record

For Collins, her coming ascension to the top GOP spot on the full committee and the Defense panel is the latest highlight in a lengthy career that manifests Maine’s motto, “Dirigo” — the Latin word for “I lead” or “I direct,” an allusion to the North Star in the state seal.

First elected in 1996, Collins is the longest serving Republican woman in Senate history. As a rare moderate in today’s GOP Senate ranks, she has been pivotal in vote after vote over the years. 

She has already chaired two committees: Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, as well as the Special Aging Committee. She now serves on Appropriations, Aging, Intelligence, and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

As for the Appropriations Committee, Collins has served there since 2009. She is a member of six subcommittees, including Defense, and is the ranking member, for now, of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

Shipyard defenders

Defense issues have long been a major concern for Collins, who served on the Armed Services Committee from 2001 through 2012.

That is not least because General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, a builder of Navy warships, has been a fixture among Maine’s top employers, and the state is also home to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a government facility where workers maintain and repair America’s attack submarines.

On the Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, the top GOP spot in the coming Congress is likely to go to Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Ingalls Shipbuilding in his state shares with Maine’s Bath Iron Works the task of producing the Navy’s destroyers, and Ingalls also builds other warships.

Between Wicker and Collins, shipbuilding programs should be well protected, whether the two senators are chairs or ranking members in the next Congress. 

They will continue to receive backing from Jack Reed, D-R.I., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and is expected to retain that role or become ranking member in the next Congress, Reed, too, represents numerous constituents who help build Navy ships — specifically submarines in next-door Connecticut for General Dynamics Electric Boat. 

It’s not as if shipbuilders have been lacking in congressional advocacy of late.

In fiscal 2022 spending law, Congress added approximately $4 billion to the Navy’s budget for warships that the service did not request in those years. In the Senate Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2023 Defense spending bill, which the chamber has yet to take up, another unrequested $4 billion for warships is penciled in.

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