Murray re-elected to Senate Democrats' No. 4 post

WASHINGTON -- Washington Sen. Patty Murray was re-elected Democratic conference secretary Tuesday, the fourth most powerful position among Senate Democrats.

But any chance of Murray becoming the first woman to chair the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee evaporated when Democrats decided not to punish Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman for his outspoken support of Republican John McCain's presidential bid.

Through a complicated game of musical chairs, Murray could have become chairman of the veterans committee if Democrats had stripped Lieberman of his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

It had always been a long shot, and Murray took the development in stride. Though she said she was disappointed with Lieberman's decision to campaign for McCain and speak at the Republican National Convention, Murray said it was time for Democrats to move on and not refight the election.

As conference secretary, Murray will rank only behind Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York.

Murray will be the thick of things as Democrats set the legislative agenda.

"It's a great opportunity," Murray said. "It gives me an opportunity to put important Washington state issues on the table."

Murray is also a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She chairs the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee.

Passage of an economic stimulus bill this week during an abbreviated congressional session is unlikely because of an anticipated Republican filibuster, Murray said. However, Congress may approve extended unemployment benefits, she said.

When Congress returns in January, Murray said its top priority will be an economic package that would provide funding for infrastructure projects and the creation of green jobs.

"The most important thing we can do is put people back to work," she said.

Murray is taking a wait and see attitude when it comes to the proposed $25 billion bailout of the auto industry.

"It's important this country has a manufacturing base," she said. "But I can't support funds without some very strict language. I'll have to see what comes before us."