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Power shift, return to limelight in store for Senate budget panel

By Jennifer Shutt, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The Senate Budget Committee could be in store for a leadership shakeup next year with major policy implications under an electoral scenario that many prognosticators say is increasingly likely: a Democratic sweep in November.

Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist who became the committee's ranking member in 2015, could decide to move on in January, according to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

"I think he's a strong and passionate voice for more income equality, and he just may very well have a better offer from other committees," Whitehouse told CQ Roll Call. Whitehouse, who joined the budget panel in 2007 along with Sanders, would "conceivably" be next in line, Whitehouse said.

Sanders' office did not return multiple requests for comment. But the progressive stalwart has the seniority on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to potentially leapfrog Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., for instance.

Sanders is a passionate advocate for heading off climate change and limiting fossil fuels, while Manchin hails from an oil, gas and coal-producing state where views on energy policy aren't in line with many on the left.

Manchin spokesman Sam Runyon told CQ Roll Call flatly that his boss will be the top Democrat on Energy and Natural Resources next year, however.


Another possibility for Sanders involves several other dominoes falling, including the possible resignation of Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., from the top slot on the Judiciary Committee.

Patty Murray of Washington could make room for Sanders at the helm of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where he could pursue other top priorities such as expanding health insurance, student debt relief and a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Murray could potentially get a very soft landing — the Appropriations Committee gavel. That would require the powerful spending panel's current top Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, to move back to Judiciary in Feinstein's place. Leahy already spent two decades as chairman or ranking member on that panel and has said he's perfectly happy to remain the top Democrat on Appropriations.

"I'd kind of like to try being chairman," Leahy told CQ Roll Call last month. But that was before calls from progressive groups for Feinstein to step down, and this week Leahy said decisions on committee leadership positions would be up to the party's leadership and steering committee.


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