Leahy Becomes Most Senior Senator

12/18/12 6:06AM By Bob Kinzel

AP/Jacquelyn Martin
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii talks with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. on Capitol Hill in Washington in June. Following Inouye's death, Leahy becomes the most senior senator.

Senator Patrick Leahy has now become the senior most member of that chamber and he's in line to become the chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee.

The change follows the death of Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye yesterday afternoon. Inouye had represented Hawaii in Congress ever since it became a state in the late 1950s.

As the senior member of the Senate, Leahy also becomes the Senate President pro tem and is third in line for presidential succession following the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.

Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says the change could have a major impact for Vermont. "I would say the most important implication for Vermont is that Senator Leahy is likely to become the Chair of the Appropriations committee which is one of the most important committees in the Senate because it controls the distribution of all discretionary spending."

And at a time when many federal programs face an uncertain budget future, Davis thinks Vermont's share of these programs will be largely protected.

"And with a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democratic Administration, Leahy would be able to use that position to make sure that federal funding for Vermont state programs is maintained at as high a level as possible," Davis said.

In a statement, Leahy said that Senator Inouye was, "the best of the ideals and the great promise of the nation that he loved and served so valiantly.  What better role model for public service could any American ask for. "We worked together on so many matters, large and small, and over so many years that it would be difficult to catalogue that list.  For decades I have sat at the desk he inscribed, and he escorted me to the well of the Senate to be sworn in for my current term."

Leahy's ascension to leadership of the Senate Appropriations committee will likely throw him into the middle of the negotiations between President Obama and Congress as the two sides try to find a compromise solution to the so called "Fiscal Cliff."

If a compromise is not reached, major tax increases and automatic budget cuts will go into place on January first.

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