WASHINGTON — More than 50 years ago, two women legislators headed a congressional committee for the first time: the House Select Committee on the Beauty Parloroverseeing a business popular with the women who worked at the Capitol.

This year, women will occupy the top four seats on the House and Senate Appropriations committees for the first time in history. Powerful panels control $1.7 trillion in federal spending each year on all aspects of American life, from education and advocacy to cancer research and highways.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; Rep. Kay Granger, Republican of Texas; Sen. Susan Collins, Republican of Maine; and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.false images; access point

It’s a remarkable feat for these veteran legislators who came to the Capitol during the 1990s, at a time when there were few women in Congress, let alone making the decisions about how federal dollars should be spent.

In the Senate, Washington Democrat Patty Murray is the new chair of the Appropriations Committee, while Maine Republican Susan Collins is the ranking member. They are taking over from two long-time male colleagues who retired last year.

In the House, Texas Republican Kay Granger is the new chair of the Appropriations Committee, while Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro, a former chair of the panel, serves as the ranking member.

Together, the quartet of powerful appropriators is known on the Hill as «the Four Corners.»

Watch NBC’s interviews with these four trailblazing women on «Meet the Press NOW,» airing Friday at 4 p.m. NBC News NOW.

In the 1970s, “there were two women who headed a committee, and the committee was in the House beauty salon. So now you’re looking at the table with the four women,» DeLauro said in an interview, reflecting on the moment.

“Often people say, you know, ‘We need women at the table.’ good women is it so table.»

Spending and debt fights loom

Over the decades, these women have seen their share of spending fights. But this year, faced with a divided government, they find themselves in the middle of what could be the biggest battle of all. Vowing to rein in federal spending, the newly empowered House conservatives, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, are demanding massive spending cuts before agreeing to raise the debt limit to $31.4 trillion.

It means that these appropriators, along with their respective House and Senate leaders, will play a critical role in trying to prevent a potential government shutdown, catastrophic debt default, or both in the coming months.

Rep. Kay Granger, Republican of Texas, speaks as other newly elected House Republican leaders look on during a press conference on Capitol Hill on November 17, 2006.
Rep. Kay Granger, Republican of Texas, speaks as other newly elected House Republican leaders look on during a press conference on Capitol Hill on November 17, 2006.File Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

“It is really a difficult time. We can make it. But I absolutely believe that we have to stick together,» said Granger, who last week became the first Republican woman to chair the House Appropriations Committee.

That will not be easy. During last year’s lame duck session, House Republican leaders made the decision to sit out of negotiations on a sweeping general spending package, which funds the government through September of this year. The other three House and Senate negotiators announced a deal without Granger, who was then the committee’s vice chairman.

Now, many of his fellow far-right Republicans are calling not just for deep cuts in discretionary non-defense spending that could target food security, child care, education, health care and housing programs. They want all options on the table, including possible cuts to the Pentagon.

Granger, a defense hawk, called that a flop. The last time such defense cuts were proposed, Granger said his response to his fellow Republicans was: «You can’t do that. If you do, you’ll see me on every TV show, in every newspaper, because we can’t to do that». that, we can’t. Those cuts are huge.”

With age comes influence

When Collins, the daughter of Maine politicians, first came to the Senate in 1997, ranked 99th out of 100 senior members. In the new 118th Congress, Collins now ranks eighth in seniority, while Murray, who took office in 1993, is fourth. The moderate states of Mainer and Washington «mom with sneakers» they now occupy two of the most powerful positions in the upper house.

«With seniority comes more influence, more influence, more knowledge,» Collins said, standing in his Capitol Hill office.

DAY TRADING--Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations ra
Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Permanent Investigations Subcommittee, and Chairman Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, at a hearing on day trading on February 24, 2000.Scott J. Ferrell/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

They may not agree on every issue—they represent distinctly different states and districts, after all—but the four appropriators have gone through similar experiences as they’ve climbed the rungs of power. They have known each other, and each other’s struggles, for decades.

“We had to prove to ourselves in every room that we were just as capable, so maybe we are better legislators,” said Murray, who also made history this month by becoming the nation’s first female Senate president pro tempore. third in line for the presidency.

Women, Murray said, are good communicators, and she and her colleagues can translate a big and complicated appropriations bill for ordinary Americans.

“We speak English: we talk about childcare, we talk about making sure our food supply is safe in this country, we talk about making sure you have a road that you can drive to pick up your kids at whatever school is sure,” Murray said.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-W., meet with reporters, accompanied by women members of the Senate , after a meeting on Capitol Hill on March 11, 1993 to discuss health care issues.
first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California; and Patty Murray, D-Wash., speak to reporters after a meeting to discuss health care issues on Capitol Hill on March 11, 1993.File by John Duricka / AP

“I certainly think men can argue. But that’s not their heart, that’s not what they’re fighting for,” he continued. “I also think that women tend to come to Congress to get things done. They don’t want to wait for the next legislative session. We want to wrap things up and get home and take care of our families. So I think we work well together. We listen to each other. Do we differ on major policies? Absolutely. But I think in general we want to find solutions to problems, not just have problems that we campaign on.»

‘Relationships matter’

It’s not just these four high-ranking legislators who are making history. Across Pennsylvania Avenue, Shalanda Young is the first black woman to serve as the White House’s top budget officer.

As director of the Office of Management and Budget, Young is responsible for presenting President Joe Biden’s budget proposal, an annual spending plan that details his priorities and values.

But as a House Appropriations staffer for 14 years, he also knows each of the major appropriators intimately and recognizes the importance of this glass-ceiling-breaking moment. Paraphrasing his boss Biden, he says he, he’s a «Wow.»

«That’s huge. I came to this city in the summer of 2001, and men were holding every one of those economic jobs, including mine, so it wasn’t representative of what this country looked like,» Young said in an interview on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“We hope that these first are not the last. And I know that I do my job to make sure that the girls behind me know that the sky is the limit,» added the new mom. “I have a 14-month-old son, Charlie, and my goal is to make sure that this is no longer historic, that having women run the country’s budget process is not newsworthy, and that she’s not totally blown away by this historic term because it will be a norm”.

Director Shalanda Young and Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas.
Director Shalanda Young and Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas.Courtesy of Shalanda Young

Two years ago, members of the House Appropriations Committee organized a baby shower for Young, and she learned that Granger is the mother of twins. Granger gave Young a piggy bank for baby Charlie.

“Those relationships matter,” Young said.

Like Young, three of the four appropriators have children and are familiar with the difficulties of building a career while assuming motherhood. The four legislators said that they aim to highlight issues such as childcare, paid leave, and gaps in the workforce that primarily affect women due to the lack of a critical support structure.

“I think men see those problems because we put so much pressure on them,” Murray said in discussing the differences between men and women in congressional leadership.

“But we have to constantly remind them that these are the first priorities, not the last priorities.”