U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., will take the helm of an influential committee overseeing defense and intelligence spending.

Durbin announced Friday that he will be the new chair of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense.

The powerful panel oversees nearly half the federal government’s annual discretionary budget, and the Illinois Democrat’s appointment comes comes as the military prepares to downsize in the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and as the prospect of automatic budget cuts loom.

“As we wind down the war in Afghanistan, face upcoming budget cuts, and work to prepare our military for future threats, this subcommittee will focus on ensuring our military remains the most powerful, ready and capable force in the world,” Durbin said in a statement Friday. “We will also work tirelessly to ensure we’re spending wisely, protecting taxpayers and planning well for the future needs.”

The senator also emphasized Illinois’ defense capabilities, noting the Rock Island Arsenal and its Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center.

“Illinois has long played an important role in our nation’s defense,” he said. “I’ll continue to work to maintain our state’s leadership and to insure Illinois service members — active duty, guard and reserve — as well as their families have the support they need and deserve.”

The reshuffling of committee assignments is the result Sen. Daniel Inouye’s death last month. The Hawaii Democrat had chaired the Appropriations Committee.

Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, were next in line for that job, as well as the defense subcommittee, but they elected to remain in their current posts. Harkin chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He said last month that he could best pursue policies benefitting working families in that position and as chair of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing spending in those areas.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is now the new Appropriations chair.

As a result of his new appointment, Durbin will relinquish his chairmanship of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing financial services and general government. He’ll maintain the other assignments he holds.

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