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Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to Take Top Democratic Spot on Education Panel

As it has been widely assumed, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will serve as the top Democrat on the Senate's education committee when the new, Republican-controlled Congress convenes in January.

Education advocates will be pleased to know that her top three priorities for the committee, which also deals with health care and labor issues, are all education-related. She's interested in reauthorizing the long-stalled No Child Left Behind law, reducing the burden of student loan debt, and investing in early childhood education.

As someone who counted on the Pell grant program to afford college and who began her career as a preschool teacher, Murray's emphasis on education should come as no surprise.

"I approach this new role the way I have approached my work representing Washington state families throughout my career," Murray said in a statement. "I will fight as hard as I can to make sure that that the voices, values, and priorities of students, workers and families, are heard loud and clear."

Murray is currently the chairwoman of the Budget Committee and will continue serving as a senior member of that panel next year. In moving into the top slot on the education committee, she fills the seat left open by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who is retiring at the end of this year.

Murray was present on the Senate floor earlier Friday morning when Harkin gave a farewell address in which he urged his colleagues to beat back what he sees as a growing inequality between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S.

"I plan to work with incoming-Chairman [Sen. Lamar] Alexander and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure that our country is doing everything possible to create jobs and economic growth that benefits all families, not just the wealthiest few," Murray said. "I will work every day to be a voice for those who too often struggle to be heard in our nation's capital."

Murray, who is known among her colleagues as a workhorse horse and ace negotiator, made her mark on the Budget Committee by frequently inviting "ordinary people"—teachers, students, nurses—to testify as witnesses rather than the typical inside-the-Beltway number crunchers.

"I will never stop fighting to make government work better for families and communities, but I will always look for ways to find common ground and get results for the people I represent," Murray said.

She has a long history of working across the aisle to get results, including the blockbuster budget deal negotiated last year with House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and most recently an update to the federal job training law with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that was more than a dozen years in the making.

"Making progress on these priorities will take continued bipartisanship, but I believe the work we did to pass a bipartisan budget deal last year showed that Democrats and Republicans can come together on challenging issues and deliver results," Murray said. "Our budget deal moved our country away from years of manufactured crises and helped to restore critical investments in education, research, infrastructure, and jobs."

For side-by-side profiles of the next ranking and chairman of the Senate education panel, check out this story chockablock full of biographical information.

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