WASHINGTON (AP) — They are now some of the most powerful women in Congress. But when they were first elected in the 90s, they were often ignored, even belittled.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, remembers men avoiding asking her questions and speaking to other men in the room. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said a male colleague challenged her at a hearing to describe a military tank engine made in her district without looking at her notes . (She shoots back: “Damn, I can!”)
Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that the first time she chaired a committee hearing, she looked around the room and realized she was the only female senator there. Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, recalled sitting at the very edge of the committee podium while more senior people made decisions in the middle.
“I remember ending up just standing at the end of the table and saying, ‘Sorry!’ because you couldn’t get their attention,” Murray said. “Everything is decided in the middle of this table. I think it’s amazing that we’re in the middle right now.”
This year, for the first time in history, all four leaders of both congressional spending committees are women. Granger is the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, while DeLauro is the top Democrat; Murray is the Senate Appropriations chairwoman and Collins is the Republican leader.
sit down with the ap In Thursday’s first joint interview — joined by the first black woman to lead the Office of Management and Budget and former House aide Saranda Young — the women talked like old friends, as they listened to each other Nod and laugh in agreement. Stories about the way women used to do things, and sometimes still do.
Men are automatically accepted once they enter Congress when they are elected, but women still have to prove themselves, Collins said. “The additional barriers that definitely exist still exist to some extent, but not as much as they used to,” Collins said. “Women bring different life experiences and different perspectives. That’s why it matters.”
The women say their camaraderie, friendship and willingness to cooperate will be crucial as they shoulder the enormous responsibility of keeping the government running and open — an annual task that will only get tougher this year as a new Republican House majority Conservatives in U.S. insist on deep spending cuts The US is at risk of default. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., won the job only after agreeing to several of the far-right lawmakers’ demands, creating a dynamic that could prove dangerous for negotiations as Congress must negotiate a deal in the next few months. Raise the debt ceiling.
“This is a timely moment,” DeLauro said. “You’re really looking at five women who control the most powerful levers of government.”
Still, she said, “none of us put our heads in the sand. We knew there were going to be difficulties.”
Granger is in the trickiest position as she tries to balance the demands of the House Republican conference with her own responsibility to keep the government running. An important task going forward, she said, is explaining what appropriators do to the public. While these committees receive little attention, they are the heart of Congress, crafting “must pass” bills to keep the government afloat. Funding levels for nearly all government payments — from the military to health care to food security to federal highways — rest with appropriators.
Asked about the challenges ahead, Granger said “deadlines are very important” when communicating with the Republican conference. Someday, she said, she will have to tell her Republican colleagues, “That’s when it has to be finalized.”
Another key to the negotiations will be Young, a former Democratic chief of staff on the House Appropriations Panel, has maintained close relationships with all four women since becoming President Biden’s cabinet-level OMB director. DeLauro and Granger gave her a baby shower before she gave birth to her daughter in 2021, she said, and “you can’t replace those relationships.”
Young’s connections were helpful late last year as lawmakers struggled to pass a massive $1.7 trillion spending bill that funded federal agencies through September and delivered another round of vital military and economic aid to Ukraine. assistance. However, due to the indecision of the Republican leadership, Granger said that there may be trouble ahead, so he did not sign the final bill.
Young joked that the four lawmakers probably wouldn’t invite any other OMB directors to interview them. Murray agreed, saying she would immediately answer their calls and texts, “which is new to me.”
The women gathered in Murray’s office, an enviable spot on the west side of the Capitol overlooking the Washington Monument. It was once the domain of legendary appropriator Senator Robert Byrd (DW.Va). Murray recalled that when she entered the same room after being elected in 1992 — the so-called “Year of the Woman” — she asked directly for a seat on the powerful spending group.
As one of the only women in the Senate, Murray immediately won the coveted seat. But she finds she has to hold her own in this still very old boys’ club. Three decades later, she became chair of the panel, succeeding retiring Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. She also succeeds Leahy as the pro tempore Senate member, the senior member of the majority that presides over the Senate and third in line for the presidency.
Murray said her office in the Capitol “has a lot of cigar-smoking men.”
Especially Murray and Collins, they have a long history of cooperation. In 2013, they were all key figures in the effort to end the government shutdown. This year, when they replaced Leahy and retiring Republican Senator Richard Shelby as committee leaders, they immediately issued a joint statement calling for the resumption of passage of the personal spending bill “in a responsible and bipartisan manner.” routine procedures, rather than hard sells. All wired into one huge bill at the end of the year.
Collins said no one in either party or chamber wanted to pass a massive year-end bill to refund the government. “I strongly believe that we can make real progress by working closely together,” she said.
They all praised their female predecessors on the committee, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who was the first chair of the Senate Appropriations panel and invited new senators to her office Participate in what she calls a “workshop” of the grants process so they can become more familiar with the committee’s elaborate way of working.
Mikulski, who retired in 2017 after serving 30 years in the Senate, said in an interview that the women were “brilliant strategists” who might disagree on policy without letting resentment get between them.
“What excites me is that not only did they break the glass ceiling, but they also had the key to the vault,” Mikulski said.