Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on Jan. 9 turned down the Appropriations Defense subcommittee gavel. (Karen Bleier / AFP)
The Senate subcommittee that oversees Pentagon spending still has no chairman, with Sen. Patrick Leahy turning down the Appropriations Defense subcommittee gavel.
In a statement released late Jan. 9, Leahy for the second time in several weeks declined an opportunity to become one of the upper chamber’s top dollar-doling officials. Leahy late last month opted against becoming chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, opening the door for Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., to seize that post.
Leahy would have had to give up his current role as chair of the Appropriations State Department and Foreign Operations subcommittee. That subpanel, he said in the statement, is more in line with the interests of his Vermont constituents. Vermont lacks a major defense industry or military presence.
“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,” Leahy said. “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.
“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,” Leahy said.
Leahy is seen by some as a supporter of defense cuts and last month voted against the final version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
Last June, Leahy slammed Pentagon officials for running the Iraq and Afghanistan wars “on a credit card.”
Next in line is Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, but reports indicate he will keep his gavel as chair of the Appropriations Labor, Health and Education subcommittee. Following Harkin in seniority are Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein of California.
But Durbin already heads the influential Appropriations Financial Services subcommittee and is Senate Majority Whip. Feinstein chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Appropriations Energy and Water Development subcommittee, which is important to her home state.
That could open a path for Mikulski to mirror the individual she replaced as head of the full panel, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who also was Defense subcommittee chair.