It’s fitting then that Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski is set to become the first woman to chair the prestigious Senate Appropriations Committee. Last year Mikulski became the longest-serving woman in Senate history and Appropriations is a notoriously male-dominated realm in much need of a different perspective. “It is especially gratifying to be the first woman to lead this powerful committee,” the 76-year-old lawmaker said in a statement. “I am grateful for this opportunity to fight for the day-to-day needs of the American people and the long-range needs of the nation.”
Mikulski takes the position after the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye, (D-HI) a civil rights warrior in his own right. Inouye served in the Senate for more than fifty years and was always on the right side of civil rights. He was the last sitting senator to vote on the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Inouye led the fight for the Americans with Disabilities Act and voted against the Defense of Marriage Act.
The transition of power, from Inouye to Mikulski is itself a significant civil rights achievement. It is visible, real institutionalized change to have the son of Japanese immigrants followed in leadership by a former-social worker turned longest-serving woman in Senate history. It demonstrates real institutional change in Washington. Yes, it is incremental, but it is change, and the significance of it can’t be lost.
“As the first Democratic woman to be elected to the Senate in her own right, and the longest serving woman senator, Barbara Mikulski has already made history twice,” said Stephanie Schriock, President of EMILY’s List.”And now, after decades as a dedicated public servant, she will make history again as the first woman to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. When women voters went to the polls this election cycle, this is the kind of progress that they had in mind — pro-choice Democratic women taking on leadership positions where they can fight even harder to get Washington working again. I am so thrilled that Senator Mikulski will be named to this position where she can continue fighting for policies that benefit women and families.”ť
By chairing the committee Mikulski has a lot of power in setting the agenda for domestic spending projects coming out of Congress. She is exactly the kind of leader we want in this position as other members of Congress, and perhaps even the Obama administration, plays political chicken with social safety net cuts. For decades poor women and families have borne the greatest economic burdens in the name of “progress” and “reform.” The impact of that policy is coming home to roost and the budgetary priorities we set now will guide policy for decades to come. And for that we should all be thrilled Mikulski is where she is today.
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