Durbin takes reins of powerful Defense panel

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Durbin also pledged to focus on the Pentagon's concerns about the automatic budget cuts under the White House's sequestration plan.

"We will ... work tirelessly to ensure we’re spending wisely, protecting taxpayers and planning well for the future needs," Durbin said. "The needs of all our service members — active duty and reserve; in theater or here at home — will be our first concern."

Durbin was technically third in line to assume the subcommittee post, behind Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Leahy turned down the position earlier this month to remain at the helm of the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee.

“Vermonters are outward looking and have a long history of working to make life better here at home and across the globe. I have been privileged to serve as a voice for Vermont on foreign policy matters,” Leahy said in a statement issued Sept. 9.

“That is why I have chosen for so many years to head one of the two Senate committees responsible for U.S. foreign affairs and protecting our global interests," the Vermont Democrat said at the time.

Harkin opted to remain in his position manning the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and education, leaving the job to Durbin.