Senate Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, died Dec. 17 at the age of 88. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The death of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, likely will set off jockeying for that powerful position — and his post as chairman of the panel’s Defense subcommittee.
The 88-year-old decorated World War II veteran passed away due to “respiratory complications” on Dec. 17, according to his office. He had been hospitalized since early this month. For his actions in World War II, Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.
As the Senate pro tempore, he was third in line for the presidency, which now passes to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who joined the upper chamber in 1975.
Loren Thompson, a Lexington Institute analyst and defense-sector consultant, called Inouye “the Senate’s last link back to a time when America’s future was not assured, and everybody shared a sense of duty about contributing to the war effort.”
But, Thompson said, “that America is long gone — so gone that few citizens today can even imagine the kind of patriotism Sen. Inouye exhibited.”
It is not immediately clear which member will ascend to the coveted and powerful top spot on the Appropriations Committee, which sets funding levels and allocated dollars for the Pentagon and other federal agencies — down to specific program allocations.
The panel’s Democratic ranks are filled with senior members who chair other committees. Next in line is Leahy, who already is Judiciary Committee chairman. Then comes Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
One candidate, unless one of those gives up those positions, is Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who chairs subcommittees on HELP and Appropriations. Other current Democratic committee members who might be candidates are Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray of Washington and Dianne Feinstein of California, who already chairs the powerful Intelligence Committee.
That leaves other candidates, like panel member Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, who is chair of the Special Committee on Aging. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois also is a senior Democratic member, but he is a member of the chamber’s leadership.
Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Jack Reed of Rhode Island are respected, but would have to leap over the panel members mentioned earlier to secure the panel’s top spot.
On the Defense subcommittee, its website lists the seniority order as: Leahy, Harkin, Durbin, Feinstein, Mikulski, Kohl, Murray, Johnson and Reed.
Inouye’s death generated a rare bipartisan tone, with his fellow Democrats and Republicans quickly issuing statements praising his war record and his long Senate tenure.
“In Washington, [Inouye] worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve,” President Obama said in a statement. “But it was his incredible bravery during World War II — including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor — that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him.”
“Sen. Inouye’s service to this great country as a soldier and a statesman is simply unparalleled, and to say that the man was an institution is a vast understatement,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said in a statement. “For the first time in over 50 years, this Congress will be without his strong and steadfast presence, and we will all be lesser for it.”
“His service to the Senate will be with the greats of this body,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor.
Appropriations Committee and Defense subcommittee member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said the Senate has “lost a true giant.”
“Sen. Inouye represented with distinction the Greatest Generation. He fought for his country with distinction, earning the Medal of Honor,” Graham said in a statement. “In the Senate, he fought for his causes with passion, civility and grace.”
Inyoue’s Senate tenure began in 1963, making him the second-longest serving member in the chamber’s history.
The late senator was regarded as a fierce ally of the Pentagon and the U.S. defense sector, which have lost a powerful and respected ally just as annual defense budgets are set to grow less slowly than recent years — or decline by as much as $500 billion over a decade if Congress fails to pass a massive deficit-reduction bill this month.
In his final months, Inouye warned about what he dubbed the “threat of sequestration,” meaning the mechanism through which across-the-board cuts to all non-exempt accounts would be made. Domestic spending would take on an identical sequester cut.
In a July statement, Inouye warned about what he saw as “sequestration’s devastating impact on defense and especially non-defense functions of the federal government,” adding he felt “encouraged that our leaders are planning to address this very serious problem before January.”
The late Senate Appropriations Committee chairman said it would be “essential that discretionary spending not bear the brunt of additional cuts when the true drivers of our deficit spending are mandatory spending and a lack of revenues.”