How Patty Murray Used Her Gavel to Win $1 Billion for Child Care

Senator Patty Murray got inspired to enter politics when a male state legislator derided her efforts to fight budget cuts to early education programs, calling her “just a mom in tennis shoes” — a remark she would proudly adopt as her campaign slogan.

So it came as little surprise that more than 40 years later, Ms. Murray, now the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, managed to emerge from excruciating negotiations over funding the federal government with a big victory aimed at children and families. Tucked into the $1.2 trillion spending law Congress cleared last week was an additional $1 billion for a single year for child care and early education programs.

Ms. Murray accomplished that feat against substantial political headwinds. Negotiators in Congress had to abide by the debt and spending deal agreed to last year by President Biden and the speaker at the time, Kevin McCarthy. Their agreement effectively froze expenditures on everything except the military, translating into deep cuts to social programs.

But Ms. Murray, together with Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, her Democratic counterpart in the House, pushed Republicans to accept a 9 percent increase in spending for child care subsidies for low-income families, and a $275 million increase in spending for Head Start, the federal program for low-income preschool children.

“This is always something I focused on,” Ms. Murray said in an interview in the Capitol suite reserved for the leader of the budget panel. “But when I took on the chair of Appropriations and looked across the wide spectrum of bills that I would be in charge of writing, I thought, ‘Here is where we can finally really make a difference.’”

It comes at a time when the child care system is under intense strain. A vast federal infusion of temporary funds that Ms. Murray and Ms. DeLauro helped secure during the coronavirus pandemic to prop up child care programs has expired, pushing an already precarious system to the brink.

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