The death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, is setting off a shuffling of committee chairmanships.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is likely to take over as the chairman of the full appropriations committee, leaving a spot open on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is likely to move into that slot, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) tells Aviation Week she is preparing to fill Feinstein’s role as the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Plans for the defense subcommittee are not yet decided, she said.
Leahy, a strong advocate for National Guard issues, is first in line among Democrats to replace Inouye on the subcommittee, followed by Sens. Tom Harkin (Iowa), Richard Durbin (Ill.), Feinstein and Mikulski.
Inouye, who died Dec. 17 of respiratory complications, had led the full appropriations committee since 2009 and served on the spending panel since 1971. He was one of the last remaining champions of earmarks, which have fallen out of favor in recent years with increased scrutiny over congressionally directed spending.
But Inouye proudly expanded the U.S. military presence in Hawaii and other islands. He prioritized the Pacific Missile Range and built a headquarters for U.S. Pacific Command. Inouye had a quiet strength and was known for working well with colleagues. He maintained a decades-long friendship with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who led Republicans on the defense subcommittee. Stevens died in a plane crash in Alaska in 2010 after leaving office.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Inouye “one of the most distinguished senators this body has ever seen,” and hailed his bravery as a soldier during World War II.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Inouye “saintly,” adding that his death was a “blow to me personally.”
The appropriations committees are working to replace the current continuing resolution funding the government, which expires in late March. Complicating progress on the spending bill are the government’s fiscal cliff negotiations. President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have been trading proposals on the deficit with still no firm deal in sight.