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NW Delegation Continues to Move On Up

While there may be a lack of close, competitive federal races in the Pacific Northwest, there is something to keep an eye on. The increasing seniority of Members of Congress from Oregon and Washington will continue to grow in the next Congress and the region’s influence may be nearing an all-time high. Here is a quick snapshot of the opportunities facing our region’s most influential policymakers.

Senator Patty Murray's rise to power is one of the most underreported stories in politics. Murray has been given immense responsibilities by her Democratic caucus, including co-chairing the Super Committee, heading the DSCC and chairing the Veterans Committee and the Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee. Murray and GOP Budget Chairman Paul Ryan crafted the budget compromise that avoided deep domestic spending cuts and set a framework for a bipartisan roadmap to address longer-term challenges.

Because of Senator Tom Harkin's (D-IA) retirement, Murray could take over as chair or ranking member on the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for the largest domestic spending bill by far and funds the Department of Health and Human Services, Education and Labor. Murray would have to give up her top spot on the Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee, but the opportunity will likely be too good to pass up.

Senator Ron Wyden will continue to lead the powerful Finance Committee as chair if Democrats stay in power or ranking member if the GOP controls the Senate. Even if he is in the minority, Wyden will continue to wield significant power on the tax writing committee in a year when tax reform may finally percolate to the surface.  The Committee also will have a significant role in financing the transportation reauthorization bill, crafting a Trade Promotion Authority bill, addressing online sales tax and passing a host of tax extenders.

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An Election All About Obama

In many ways, the November 4 general election will be a referendum on President Obama, even though his name won't appear on any ballot. The mid-term election has seen congressional races turn into contests of how much disagreement or distance candidates can achieve from the President who faces slumping approval ratings over intensified terrorist threats abroad and the specter of the Ebola virus spreading here.

The Pacific Northwest is no exception. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, thought at one point to be the most vulnerable member of the region's delegation, invited Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren to barnstorm for him, not Obama. And recent polls show Merkley has a double-digit lead in his re-election bid.

Here is a quick overview of the election:

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Lewinsky Scandal Tipped Presidential Approval Ratings

President Obama's approval ratings have continued to droop under the weight of criticism about his handling of the Ebola crisis as he has steadfastly refused, as critics have demanded, to close the U.S. border to anyone traveling from West Africa.

Curiously, Monica Lewinsky, now in her 40s, has resurfaced to talk about her love affair with President Bill Clinton. A Washington Post political blogger sees a connection.

Presidential approval ratings have taken on a partisan flavor, just as other aspects of political life. Gallup generated data showing the most polarized viewpoints of Presidents over the last 50 years have occurred since 2000 with the contested election of George W. Bush.

The gaps between Republicans and Democrats is astounding. Approval ratings for Obama in 2012-2013 and for Bush in 2004-2005 showed a 76 percentage point spread among partisans.

President Bill Clinton's approval rating in 1996-1997 was 85 percent by Democrats, but only 23 percent by Republicans — a 62 percentage-point spread.

President Ronald Reagan's approval rating in 1984-1985 was 89 percent by Republicans and 29 percent by Democrats — a 60 percentage-point spread.

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Ebola Scare Elbows onto Political Stage

The arrival of the Ebola virus in the United States has claimed a lot of attention that otherwise would have gone to a stepped-up war on terror and the looming election November 4.

The death of a Liberian man in a Dallas hospital and the resulting exposure of two health care workers who treated him have spiraled into questions as large as whether the United States should close off its borders to anyone who has been in West Africa where Ebola has become an epidemic.

The Obama administration ordered tighter checks at major U.S. airports where most flights from West Africa land and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention is busily trying to train health care workers in protocols for treating persons with Ebola virus symptoms.

However, Americans have grown concerned after a series of missteps at the Dallas hospital where Thomas Eric Duncan died after he was initially sent home. The chief clinical officer for the hospital has apologized for mistakes that were made. 

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Returning the Joy to College

The joy of college has turned distinctly dour these days as the high price of tuition and the elusiveness of post-graduation jobs are plunging some students into depression. The problem is especially severe for graduate students with sky-high debt and limited prospects.

Getting into college may be a gigantic headache for the more than half of high school graduates that the College Board says are unprepared for the academic rigors to earn an undergraduate degree. In some states, such as Delaware, only a quarter of students who took the SAT scored high enough to be considered college-ready. Oregon beat the national average, but still hovers below the 50 percent readiness mark.

In San Francisco, city officials are managing a campaign to give kindergarteners a starter donation for a college savings account. Each child gets an initial $50 deposit. Children enrolled in the National School Lunch Program receive $100.

The early-start on a college savings account rests with a study that shows even small amounts set aside for college create expectations the student will attend college. For students from low-income families, even small amounts of savings prove a strong motivation, as they are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate.

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