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In Our View: Serious legislator Patty Murray gets things done

The Columbian
Published: March 26, 2024, 6:03am

In an age when bluster often is confused with leadership, an unassuming senator from Washington plays a key role in ensuring the federal government remains functional.

Last week, Democrat Patty Murray once again helped avert a government shutdown. The Senate passed a $1.2 trillion spending package early Saturday, after the House of Representatives had approved the deal amid much rancor. Without passage of the bill, approximately 70 percent of the federal government would have temporarily ceased operations.

“Would I like to have done this six months ago? Absolutely,” Murray told The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review. “But I’ll be the first one to tell you nobody thought we could get this done.”

Getting things done has been a recurrent theme throughout Murray’s 31 years in the Senate. A quick internet search reveals years of headlines such as “Patty Murray likely to be a key voice in Senate on budget deal” and “How Patty Murray sold Democrats on the budget deal” and “Patty Murray leads Democrats’ charge toward funding showdown with House GOP.”

While she long has been one of the Democrats’ lead budget writers, Murray’s prominence has grown in the current Congress. Since January 2023, she has been chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as president pro tempore of the Senate, which places her third in the line of succession for the presidency.

Despite those prominent roles, Murray rarely finds herself in the headlines unless there is a budget crisis. The latest was the threat of a shutdown as funding was scheduled to run out for several major federal departments. That required deft statesmanship from Murray; Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee; and the lead budget writers in the House.

G. William Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said: “I think a lot of credit goes to Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Collins. These are serious legislators. They know how to get things done.”

It is a sad commentary about modern politics that such seriousness requires acknowledgment. But the latest budget kerfuffle demonstrates the need to recognize lawmakers who focus on doing their jobs.

Shortly after the House passed the budget, for example, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., moved to vacate Mike Johnson as speaker. The motion remains informal and has not yet triggered a vote. But Greene, who spends more time engaging in theatrics than legislating, spent the weekend disparaging Johnson on social platforms and conservative media.

Indeed, there are members of both parties who can be accused of performative politics, but a handful of Republicans in the House have particularly embraced the art form. In January, Murray told The Columbian’s Editorial Board: “In the time I’ve been in the Senate, there’s always been senators who just rush to a camera. But there’s more who are really focused on trying to get things done and trying to work the process. It’s how I’ve always operated; it’s what I respect.”

In turn, it is an approach that has earned respect — from colleagues and from voters.

The latest budget agreement includes provisions that meet specific priorities for both sides. Republicans trimmed $100 billion from President Joe Biden’s initial request; Murray trumpeted a $1 billion funding boost for child care. And while the congressional budgeting process is broken, it still requires some nimble politicking.

As Murray said: “You don’t get a bipartisan deal unless everyone walks out and says, ‘I won.’ ”