Democratic U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington was selected Tuesday to help lead a bipartisan "super committee," which will decide where to shave $1.5 trillion in federal spending in the coming decade.
Murray, the top-ranked woman in leadership of the Senate's majority Democrats, will serve as a co-chairwoman alongside a yet-to-be named Republican to be appointed by House Speaker John Boehner.
Together, they'll guide the panel of 12 lawmakers -- half from each chamber and evenly divided among the two parties -- in a challenging search for agreement by Thanksgiving on exactly how and where to cut spending.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., named Murray along with Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., late Tuesday. The three appointees issued a statement a short time later acknowledging the difficulty of the task ahead.
"Our challenge is to find common ground without damaging anyone's principles," the statement read. "We believe we can get there. This Committee was designed to require bipartisanship, and we are going to work hard with our Republican colleagues to attain it."
Republican Party leaders teed off on Murray's selection as a leader.
"It's obvious that Senator Reid is not taking the deficit reduction committee very seriously," state Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur said in a statement.
Appointing her as co-chairwoman, he continued, "is like asking a fox to guard a hen house. Senator Murray has absolutely no history of cutting spending, ever. In fact, it's quite the opposite. I do not know of a single substantive vote she has ever cast to cut spending."
Known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the panel emerged as one of the final pieces in last week's compromise to increase the debt level for the federal government.
Its chore is drafting legislation by Thanksgiving which achieves at least $1.5 trillion in budget savings over the coming decade. That sum matches the amount of additional money the government can borrow through the beginning of 2013 under last week's deal.
Whatever the committee crafts is guaranteed an up-or-down vote in the Senate before Christmas, according to information from Reid's office.
Reid is the first of four congressional leaders to make his picks. Boehner, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will each be naming three members by Aug. 16.
Reid chose three of the Senate Democrats' most senior members and stalwart defenders of the party's core principles. Baucus is chairman of the Finance Committee and Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, heads the Foreign Relations Committee.
Murray, elected to the Senate in 1992, has spent 18 years on the Senate's budget and appropriations committees. She is chairwoman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs committee and subcommittee dealing with transportation and housing. She's also overseeing the caucus's political operation and is tasked with retaining the Democrats' majority in 2012 elections.
In a statement, Reid noted that among the three senators, "their legislative accomplishments are matched only by their records of forging strong bonds with their Republican colleagues."
He opted against picking Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota or Dick Durbin of Illinois, who backed curbs on Medicare spending and Social Security benefits as members of President Barack Obama's deficit commission. Baucus also served on the commission but voted against the controversial recommendations put forward by its co-chairmen.
Just as Reid chose a party loyalist to be a co-chairwoman, Boehner is likely to choose a stout conservative.
In a conference call Tuesday with rank-and-file House Republicans, Boehner said his three selections to the joint committee will be "people of courage who understand the gravity of this situation and are committed to doing what needs to be done," according an account provided by a House GOP aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., are among the names most frequently mentioned by congressional aides and lobbyists as Boehner's likely picks.
Ryan and Camp were also deficit commission members but voted against the co-chairmen's recommendations, citing tax increases and inadequate cost curbs of federal health care programs.
Boehner also said he and other House and Senate leaders of both parties want the newly created panel to conduct "open hearings and a public process."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.