Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is stepping back to the center of the nations debate on cutting the deficit, but her bid for a new leadership position means giving up her role as chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
She is in line to become the next chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, replacing retiring Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota. The assignment will not become final until later this year.
Murray wants to leverage her assignment on the Budget Committee both to get a grasp on the deficit and to focus on investments that could generate growth in the future, such as education, job training and infrastructure.
This has totally been a question of cuts, cuts and more cuts, she said Thursday. We have to have a solid budget discussion that takes into account other priorities.
Murrays advocacy for veterans has had impact around the Puget Sound, such as the pressure she exerted on the Veterans Administration to reduce patient wait times and her calls for reform in active-duty behavioral health programs. She intends to stay on the Veterans Affairs Committee and prioritize veterans issues on the Budget Committee, she said.
Murray, the daughter of a disabled World War II veteran who earned a Purple Heart, has had a seat on the Veterans Affairs Committee for her entire 18-year Senate career and has been chairwoman the past two years.
She is the fourth ranking Democrat in the Senate, and shes coming off a successful turn as chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Her party defied early expectations and picked up two Senate seats despite an electoral map that had Democrats defending more vulnerable seats than Republicans.
Last year, Murray led the so-called budget Super Committee that was charged with crafting a deal to reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion.
But the bipartisan group could not make a deal, setting in motion defense and domestic spending cuts that are one part of the looming fiscal cliff lawmakers now face at the end of 2012.
Theres still time to avert the cuts, but anxiety is rising among businesses that are trying to make plans for the future and families whose livelihoods are tied to programs on the chopping block.
The Bush-era tax cuts also are set to expire at the end of this year. Democrats want to reinstate Clinton-era tax rates on families earning more than $250,000 a year, but retain the Bush-era levels for households with incomes under that threshold. Republicans want to continue the Bush rates.
Murray has been among the Democrats who have said going over the cliff could give lawmakers an opportunity to raise tax rates on the wealthy while maintaining Bush-era tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 a year.
We had a debate in the election on that, she said. The president ran on it and he won. Senators ran on it and they won. If the Republicans continue to say despite the challenges we have that were still going to defend tax cuts for the wealthy, then that will be what they force.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646