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Congress must agree on a deal to fund the federal government through the rest of the fiscal year before the current spending measure expires on March 27 in order to avoid a federal shutdown. While the House has already passed its version of a spending bill, the Senate is expected to push through its take on the budget this week. One local lawmaker has been a crucial player in Senate budget negotiations and her role marks a milestone for women in Congress. David Hawkings joins WAMU 88.5's Morning Edition Matt McCleskey to talk about the details. Hawkings was recently editor of the CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing. He's still with CQ Roll Call, now writing political analysis in a new blog and column called Hawkings Here.
On how Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski is cementing her place as one of this year's power players: "It's not a very high threshold, but it's been a very difficult threshold for senators for about the last 10 years, which is just to put regular order back in the budget process. As chairman, she's the first woman to ever chair the Appropriations Committee, and her self-assigned task sounds pretty simple, which is get back to the regular order of doing things, be pragmatic, meet the deadlines, don't let things drag out, try and restore some credibility to the congressional process, just by doing her job on time. So far, she's had very good success. She got the Super Storm Sandy Supplemental Appropriation bill through relatively quickly. This week, she's prepared to put through appropriations bill on the floor, and thinks she can get it done by the end of the week."
On how Mikulski fits into a new class of women in Congress who are taking up leading positions in federal policy making: "She's the longest-serving woman ever on Congressional history, and she's taken advantage of the seniority system to rise up to chair this very important committee. But she's not alone... now eight of the 21 committees in the Senate are chaired by women."
On how soon can we expect Congress to send a spending bill over to Obama for him to sign into law: "Well, the bill that the House put through last week, written by the Republicans, favored Republican priorities, and was nicer marginally to the Defense Department and the VA than to anybody else by giving them flexibility — more flexibility over how to handle this sequester than the domestic agencies. Sen. Mikulski's bill, in response, is going to give more flexibility to domestic departments — the Commerce Department, the Justice Department, the Agriculture Department — but it's important to note, that there is going to be no shutdown because both sides have agreed to live under the sequester's caps."