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Murray keeps Energy-Water panel, gives up Military Construction-VA

Retiring Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema will oversee veterans, military housing funds in her last year in office

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has pushed for Energy Department funding to clean up a decommissioned nuclear site in her state.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has pushed for Energy Department funding to clean up a decommissioned nuclear site in her state. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate Democrats have sorted out their Appropriations subcommittee chair lineup for the rest of this Congress, with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., joining the ranks and the full committee chair, Patty Murray of Washington, retaining a high-profile subcommittee gavel.

Sinema will lead the Military Construction-VA panel, and Murray will continue to chair the Energy-Water subcommittee, a role she took over on an interim basis last October after the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. At the time, Murray said she would lead the subcommittee for the rest of the fiscal 2024 budget cycle.

Congress cleared the final fiscal 2024 appropriations bills last month, and Senate Democrats organized themselves for the next fiscal year this week. 

Murray’s continued role leading Energy-Water as well as the full committee came as a bit of a surprise since New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich had been considered the leading candidate because of the Energy Department’s deep roots in his state.

“It’s a very interesting subcommittee,” Heinrich said Monday after a lengthy pause, without elaborating.

Instead, Heinrich will remain at the helm of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

Murray’s home state is no stranger to Energy-Water issues either. Washington is home to the Hanford site, a Manhattan Project-era, decommissioned nuclear production facility in the midst of a lengthy cleanup process. Murray led the inclusion of $3 billion for cleanup of the site in the final Energy-Water bill, among other state priorities in that piece of the spending package.

“I have practically been a broken record in saying that the federal government has a moral and legal obligation to properly fund the cleanup at Hanford,” Murray said on the floor last month. “Our work is far from done — but with this historic $3 billion investment, we are moving in the right direction.”

Murray had been chairwoman of the Military Construction-VA subcommittee, a position she offloaded to Sinema, who isn’t running for reelection. Democratic leaders appointed Sinema to the Appropriations Committee last year to fill the vacancy caused by Feinstein’s death last year. 

A Senate Democratic caucus rule requires full committee chairs to give up a subcommittee gavel to a more junior member who doesn’t already have one, which helped Sinema claim her new gavel. The rule doesn’t necessarily give existing subcommittee chairs the right to bump a full committee chair in order to secure a different subcommittee of their choosing, which may have played a role in Heinrich staying put.

The new slate of subcommittee leaders arrives in time for what’s expected to be a tough election-year appropriations cycle. Murray said Tuesday during a subcommittee hearing that she expects the fiscal 2025 process to be more difficult than the current year’s.

The 1 percent increase to defense and nondefense spending allowed under the spending caps in last summer’s debt limit law are “not nearly enough to tackle the challenges we face here at home and abroad,” Murray said.

Murray said she would “insist” that any agreement to raise the caps would raise spending levels for both the defense and nondefense side of the discretionary spending ledger.

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