Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. will take over as the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a position left vacant following the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, earlier this week.
Mikulski's appointment comes after Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, passed on the Appropriations job. Harkin, who was the author of a bipartisan bill to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, opted to stick with the education committee.
Harkin said in a statement that the education panel is really where his "passion lies." And he made it clear he intends to continue to work to reauthorize ESEA next year.
"This is my work, it is who I am, and these are the issues that define me," he said. "I believe strongly that the erosion of the middle class, and growing income inequality, are among our most pressing issues as a country. To that end, I am committed to doing everything I can to reverse those trends. In the new Congress, I intend to move forward with bills to ensure that all Americans are able to achieve the promise of a quality education—beginning in early childhood, continuing through elementary and high school, and culminating with higher education."
Harkin will remain chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees K-12 spending.
Harkin's decision to stick around as chairman doesn't mean that there won't be changes at the top of the Senate education committee. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is expected to move into the ranking member (aka top Republican) slot. Sen. Michael B. Enzi, who worked closely with Harkin on the ESEA bill, was term limited out of his ranking member position. Alexander voted in favor of the Harkin-Enzi bill, but he made it clear he was really unhappy with it.
Mikulski, who also worked on the ESEA measure, is herself a long-time member of the Senate education committee. A former social worker, Mikulski has long been interested in mental health issues. Right now, she is the chairwoman of a subcommittee that deals with education policy.
"It is especially gratifying to be the first woman to lead this powerful committee," said Sen. Mikulski 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."