Congressional Control Depends on Down Ballot Voting

A shift in control in the Senate could mean major chairmanships for Oregon and Washington but also heightened influence for junior Senators Jeff Merkley and Maria Cantwell.

A shift in control in the Senate could mean major chairmanships for Oregon and Washington but also heightened influence for junior Senators Jeff Merkley and Maria Cantwell.

James Comey’s letter to Congress on Friday is, if nothing else, a helpful reminder that anything is possible between now and November 8. While no prediction is safe at this point, one can still speculate about what the 115th Congress will look like for the Pacific Northwest, where some members of Congress may need to update their business cards come January.
 
If Democrats take control of the Senate, Oregon and Washington’s senior senators are expected to make significant moves in both party and committee ranking. However, their junior counterparts will likely earn a promotion as well.
 
Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon is the 10th Democrat on the full Senate Appropriations Committee and the Ranking Democratic Member of its Subcommittee on Agriculture. This powerful panel writes the budgets of the Department of Agriculture, Farm Credit Administration and Food and Drug Administration. If Democrats pick up a net of four Senate seats in November, Merkley will likely move up a few rungs in the full committee ranks and be first in line to chair the agriculture subcommittee.
 
Merkley is the first Oregonian on Senate Appropriations since Senator Mark O. Hatfield retired at the end of the 104th Congress in 1996. Oregon senators could hold two gavels in the Senate for the first time since Hatfield and Bob Packwood chaired the Appropriations and Finance committees, respectively. 
 
In Washington, Senator Maria Cantwell is the Ranking Democratic Member of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee and the second-ranking Democrat on Commerce, Science & Transportation. Although Cantwell has been an influential transportation advocate in Congress – perhaps most notably as the author of freight mobility grant funding in the FAST Act of 2015 – the gavel of Senate Energy & Finance would likely be hers to refuse if the Senate flips. 
 
In the House, the status quo will likely prevail as Republicans are expected to hold onto their House majority for what would be the 4th straight Congress. For House Democrats in Oregon and Washington, that means retaining current positions and a slight rise in their party and committee rankings.
 
Republicans Greg Walden (OR) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) would hang onto their coveted positions in majority leadership, while newer Republican members such as Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA) may move up a few rungs in their assigned committees. 
 
Similarly, Oregon’s senior House Democrat Peter DeFazio will remain Ranking Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Jim McDermott’s (WA) retirement will likely allow Earl Blumenauer (OR) to move up a spot or two on the Ways and Means Committee. 
 
What party controls each congressional chamber will influence the degree of gridlock in the next Congress, regardless whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins the White House. House Republicans already have already threatened a barrage of investigations if Clinton prevails and Senate Republicans have talked about blocking Clinton Supreme Court nominees. Democratic control of the Senate – or even a stronger minority – could be a major barrier to Trump initiatives.

The consequences of the election underscore the importance of voting – and voting on down ballot races.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com