A few years ago, Rep. Nancy Pelosi was the most powerful woman in Congress, for she was Speaker of the House. But while Nancy Pelosi remains a political force in the House of Representatives and is an important congressional leader, since 2011 she has been the Minority Leader and former Speaker.
So I’m proclaiming Senator Patty Murphy, Democrat of Washington, the most powerful woman in Congress.
Why Patty Murray?
Because Senator Murray is the incoming Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, a group structurally positioned to have great power over the federal budget.
As a member of that committee and the head of the Democratic party’s senatorial committee, Murray has shown strong policy commitments and political smarts.
In the crunch of final negotiations over a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling last summer, it was Murray who nixed the idea of exposing veterans benefits to automatic domestic and military spending cuts that would result if Congress does not reach a more targeted deficit-reduction deal by the end of this month.
Murray also defended Planned Parenthood, refusing to agree to defunding it and making such a political issue.
“I walked in, and I was literally the only woman,” she remembered. “And I walked in and they said: ‘We’re all done except the House wants one last concession. They want us to give on that and we’re done.’ . .
Murray rallied female senators to take the floor early the next morning to blast the idea. Again, her advice to hold firm at a key moment bore fruit: Democrats ultimately forced the GOP to give on the issue.
Behind the scenes, Murray was credited by colleagues with recognizing that female voters in key races could be galvanized around the idea that Republicans were more concerned about limiting access to abortion and contraception than promoting jobs and the economy.
On the Budget Committee, Senator Murray replaces Kent Conrad, the centrist Democrat who did not seek re-election this year.
Conrad had a tendency to talk about the budget in aggregate terms involving spending and revenues.
In one recent interview, Murray talked about the budget’s impact on families, and on the importance of communication with those families.
I think what’s been lacking from our discussion for a long time is really that other part of what a Budget chair does, which is set the priorities for this country in terms of making sure we invest in the right places, in education, in job training, and to make sure we do a balanced approach moving forward.
I am fighting for those middle-class families who want us to deal with our debt and deficit, but they also want the investments that are critical to our country moving forward. And I want to help them understand why this word ‘budget’ is so important to them. It’s about whether their kids get access to college, or we have an ability to create the infrastructure for our roads to bring new jobs here, or we have job training, and a really deep concern of mine, that we are ready to take care of the veterans who are returning home by the hundreds of thousands.
By the way, Murray was first elected in 1992, then called the Year of the Woman, because so many women were elected to the Senate. (Bill Clinton also won the presidency.)
Fittingly, as gender biases exert less power over voters, Murray’s political leadership in this year’s election was partly responsible for bringing the number of women in the Senate to its highest number ever — 20.