Despite $6 billion spent in federal election campaigns, the political landscape in Washington, D.C. remains virtually unchanged — basically the same cast, plot and fiscal cliff.
President Obama's decisive electoral college victory, a fortified Democratic majority in the Senate and a return GOP majority in the House set the stage for a dramatic few weeks before the January 2 deadline when tax cuts expire and drastic spending cuts go into effect.
The drama may prove anti-climatic, as some observers predict the lame-duck Congress will punt the ball to itself by approving short-term extensions of tax cuts and current spending levels – the equivalent of driving to the cliff, but at a slower speed.
Meanwhile, the election produced some positive outcomes for the Northwest congressional delegation:
• Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash, who wasn't even on the ballot, may have scored the biggest victory by keeping Senate Democrats in the majority, a prospect that seemed dim just six months ago. Murray will retain her chairmanship of the Senate Transportation and Housing Appropriations Subcommittee and assume the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee, both formidable perches to influence economic and job-stimulus policy.
• Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR, is slated to become chairman of Senate Energy and Natural Resources, the first chair since 1987 from a non-oil producing state. He can be expected to cheerlead for domestic energy production and use, while continuing to oppose exporting liquefied natural gas. Wyden also sits on Senate Finance, which will be involved in federal tax reform, something he has championed.
• Congressman Greg Walden, R-OR, is a sure bet to head the National Republican Congressional Committee, where he will remain part of the trusted inner circle of returning House Speaker John Boehner. Walden will retain his seat on the House Energy Commerce Committee, with a wide-ranging policy portfolio that includes Medicare Part B, Medicaid, insurance regulation and energy issues.
• Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, easily won re-election to a third term and will remain on Senate Finance where she has been active on health care issues.
• Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., comfortably dispatched her Democratic opponent and should remain on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, though she may try to move to House Appropriations. The Latina congresswoman is viewed as a rising star in Republican ranks, which desperately need to evince more support for minorities and women.
Washington voters elected two fresh faces to their state's congressional delegation – Congressmen-Elect Denny Heck, to represent the newly formed 10th District, and Derek Kilmer, to replace retiring legend Norm Dicks, who represented a district centered around Bremerton.
Democratic Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, a former Microsoft vice president, reprised her special election victory over Republican John Koster, following the resignation of former Congressman Jay Inslee, who ran for governor.
Oregon Democratic Congressman Kurt Schrader overcame last-minute national campaign contributions from GOP-aligned groups to gain a relatively easy victory over Republican Fred Thompson en route to a third term. Congressman Peter DeFazio defeated Art Robinson, master of the roadside sign, for a second straight election and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici glided to re-election with token opposition.
In the U.S. Senate, Democrats claimed 53 seats, but probably can count on 55 votes with two independents leaning in their direction, including newly elected Angus King, who fills the Maine seat formerly held by GOP Senator Olympia Snowe, who retired.
Republicans cling to a solid majority in the House, including Paul Ryan who won re-election to Congress even as he lost his bid as part of the Romney-Ryan presidential ticket. Democrats picked up 14 seats previously held by Republicans and the GOP plucked 11 Democratic seats.
Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachman narrowly won re-election after her opponent hammered her over comments made during and just after her ill-fated presidential bid. One of the most vocal and contentious House Republicans, Joe Walsh of Illinois, was unseated.
Overall, blue states got bluer and red states redder, as Democrats picked up four seats in Illinois and Republicans grabbed three more in North Carolina.