Petite and unusually understated in an ego-saturated chamber, Sen. Patty Murray has made a career on Capitol Hill by being underestimated.
Now in her fourth term, the expectations and challenges are piled high as Murray, the 60-year-old Democrat from Washington state, takes the reins of a select committee that must find $1.5 trillion in federal budget cuts by Thanksgiving.
It will not be an easy assignment, coming only weeks after a partisan meltdown took the nation to the brink of default before the debt ceiling was finally raised.
The so-called “Super Committee” that Murray will co-chair with Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Tex., is comprised of six Democrats and six Republicans. If it can find agreement, its recommendations will go straight to the respective floors for straight up or down votes.
The fiscal part is hard enough.
But there's also an unofficial, possibly more difficult goal – behaving in a way that resets the Capitol's acutely partisan atmosphere so the public and the financial markets regain confidence in Washington's ability to govern.
“There was an adult conversation missing” from the debt ceiling debate, said Jonathan Miller, a co-founder of the group No Labels, which wants to restore bipartisanship. The public agrees, according to polls. But with elections approaching and positions fixed, Miller asks, “Will the pressures be too great to present a bi-partisan agreement?”
This is the challenge that Murray and others on the committee face. She and Hensarling are joined by Republican Reps. Dave Camp and Fred Upton; Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra, James Clyburn and Chris Van Hollen; Republican Sens. Jon Kyl, Rob Portman and Pat Toomey; and Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and John Kerry.