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U. S. Senator Barbara Mikulski Rises to the Post of Appropriations Committee
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December 21, 2012
U. S. Senator Barbara Mikulski rises to the post of Appropriations Committee chairmanship with gratitude – and a waiting supply of new ideas. WYPR’s Fraser Smith spoke with the Senator and has this report.
Highlandtown’s Barbara Mikulski, the social worker who became a path breaking female legislator stands now as the nation’s chief steward of taxpayer dollars. She said she assumes the post with deep humility – and sensitivity toward her dual role.
“You know we have to make sure in a big federal government that spends a trillion dollars a year we remember why we’re there – to be stewards of the purse and responsible to the taxpayers, but to meet compelling human needs where people need a government they can count on when they need it.”
There’s some policy making symmetry here: People need jobs and the nation’s infrastructure needs work.
“This is why, for example, I would hope we would have an infrastructure bank where we would be able to rebuild our highways, like fix that Howard Street tunnel and at the same time look at how to rebuild the Baltimore sewer system.”
The money – two billion would be needed for the highway and bridge refurbishment – could come from Afghanistan where she said we are spending $3 billion a week.
“I would like to see the money come back home. Bring our troops back home. Bring our money back home. Look out for our veterans and make sure that veterans who were on the front line aren’t on the unemployment line here.”
Part of her challenge will be performing in a way that alters a commonly held, negative view of government
“I think the taxpayer thinks that if you give the federal government a dollar we’ll spend two and at the end of the day they wonder what we’ve got to show for it.”
She said she believes she and her Republican friend, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, can have a mellowing effect on the Senate.
“Mr Shelby and I have worked together over the years, particularly in the area of science and technology and our space program. We have a great relationship. I’m going to take what is a good personal relationship and show that we can extend it to the whole institution. I believe we can govern in a very smart way.”
She grew up listening to people talk about their needs and concerns about almost everything, including government.
“I remember my mother and father opening their grocery store every morning and saying ‘Good morning, can I help you?’ They saw the store as a community center, a place where people not only got their goods and groceries but where they could talk things over, talk about the community.”
Her parents, she said, believed in education and sacrificed so she could go to good schools. Without them, she said, she would not have had the career she’s had – being the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in her own right.
“I think about my mom, who was called Miss Chris, the First Lady of Highlandtown. And she would have said ‘Barb, get a new outfit, get a new hairdo. Do good, Be good.’ I said to another member I can do all that but I don’t know about the hair. Me and Hilary have a hair thing.”
The senator said she will be involved now in counseling for resolution of the current financial challenges. Falling over the fiscal cliff, she said, would be of great concern for virtually everything government does—and people rely on.
I’m Fraser Smith reporting for 88-1 WYPR.
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