Running the Senate Appropriations Committee is usually seen as a coveted job, a perch from which a lawmaker can make it rain federal money on his or her home state.
But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, opted Wednesday to pass up the opportunity to hold the ultimate bring-home-the-bacon gavel.
The position was open after the death this week of Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. Based on seniority, the next in line for the position was Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., but he decided to keep his chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee.
It then fell to Harkin, but he opted instead to remain chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, saying that is the policy area where his passion lies.
“This is my work, it is who I am, and these are the issues that define me,” Harkin said in a statement.
Harkin said he wants to reverse the trend of growing income inequality and advance legislation to improve education.
He said he also wants to work to ensure Americans have a secure source of retirement income, increase the employment of persons with disabilities, continue implementation of the new health care law and raise the minimum wage.
“I believe the best place to advance this agenda is through my HELP Chairmanship working in conjunction with my Chairmanship of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds health, education, and labor,” Harkin said. “It was my good friend Senator Inouye who said that these issues are the issues that define America. I couldn’t agree more. I am proud of these assignments and I intend to see my work through.”
Harkin’s decision means that the next senator in line – Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., will take over the Appropriations Committee. She will be the first woman to do so.