Kirk on key homeland security, armed services panels

New senator may cast first vote today

By Joseph Williams
Globe Staff / September 30, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Senator Paul G. Kirk Jr., moving full-speed into his new job in Congress, received his committee assignments yesterday, will participate in his first committee hearing today, and by day’s end could cast his first vote, on a major defense spending bill.

After a series of meetings yesterday, top Senate Democrats placed Kirk on two committees with jurisdiction over issues crucial to the Bay State: the Armed Services Committee, which supervises the military and plays a role in defense spending, and the Homeland Security Committee, responsible for supervising the nation’s defenses against terrorism.

Kirk said in a statement yesterday that he’s prepared for his new responsibilities with the nation and his constituents in mind. “With Massachusetts’ sons and daughters courageously serving on the front lines overseas, and our first responders bravely protecting our citizens at home, I’m deeply honored to serve the people of Massachusetts on these committees,’’ he said.

Though he won’t sit on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee - the powerful body helping to craft a sweeping health care overhaul bill - Kirk vowed to be “a strong voice and a vote’’ for reform. The committee had been led by the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Kirk’s predecessor, mentor, and close friend.

Today, Kirk, a longtime aide to Kennedy, will participate in his first hearing of the Homeland Security Committee, “Eight Years After 9/11: Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland,’’ where Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FBI Director Robert Mueller III are scheduled to testify.

Later today, Kirk is expected to vote on a defense appropriations bill that would provide nearly $630 billion for the military over the next fiscal year - including nearly $3 billion in controversial projects that the Obama administration didn’t request.

One of those earmarks is $20 million for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, to be established at the University of Massachusetts campus in Boston, next to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

The funding, added at the request of Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, came under fire last week from watchdog groups who questioned using military funds to pay for a pet project that has little to do with national defense.

Yesterday, Senator John McCain attacked the expenditure as “pork’’ and said that President Obama has not been stern enough with Congress on earmarks.

“One thing I know about egregious practices, if you don’t stop them early in an administration, you never will,’’ said McCain, Obama’s Republican rival in last year’s election.

Kirk - former chairman of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library - has not said how or whether he will vote on the bill. “Senator Kirk is reviewing the legislation to make an informed decision,’’ his spokesman, Keith Maley, said in an e-mail yesterday.

Kirk was sworn in as interim senator last Friday, the culmination of weeks of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering. Acting on Kennedy’s last wishes, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick persuaded the state Legislature to repeal a law blocking him from appointing an interim senator ahead of a Jan. 19 special election, then picked Kirk for the job over other candidates including former governor Michael Dukakis.

Yesterday, members of the US House, including the entire Massachusetts delegation, paid the latest tribute to Kennedy with speeches and statements from the House floor. Most statements echoed that of Representative Richard Neal, a Springfield Democrat who called Kennedy one of the Senate’s “strongest voices for fairness, equality, and justice.’’

Bryan Bender of the Globe staff contributed to this report.