Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appointed Sanders to the post after promoting its current chairwoman, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), to head the Senate Budget Committee. Sanders was the next-highest-ranking Democrat-aligned member of the panel not already chairing another committee.
"It is a great honor to be named chairman of the committee, but it is an even greater responsibility," Sanders said in a written statement. "We owe it to the over 22 million brave veterans living in the United States to provide the benefits that they have earned and deserve."
On Thursday, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) announced that he's reclaimed his old seat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Welch was first tapped for the committee in 2009, but was bumped after the 2010 election, when Republicans took over the House and claimed a majority of seats on each panel.
The committee's portfolio is unusually broad: it handles policy relating to health care, energy, the environment, telecommunications, public health and trade. Spokesman Scott Coriell says Welch will particularly focus on making health care more affordable, increasing energy efficiency and curbing climate change.
Welch was also named by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee — a leadership panel that determines committee assignments and sets policy for House Dems. Its membership is dominated by those loyal to Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other top Democrats.
Coriell says it remains unclear whether Welch will retain his current assignments to the House Agriculture Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The delegation's most senior — and most powerful — member, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), does not expect any changes to his assignments, his office says. He'll remain chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, number two on the Senate Appropriations Committee and most senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He also chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on State Department and Foreign Operations.
Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked as Peter Welch’s communications director from November 2008 to March 2011.