Northwest Delegation Gains Clout

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley lands a prize committee assignment, symbolizing the current Northwest congressional delegation's escalating clout in Congress.The Pacific Northwest congressional delegation climbed the ladder of seniority and power in Washington, DC this week, which could translate into more favorable attention to regional concerns.

Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley cashed in on his support of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by landing a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. He will be the first Oregon congressional member to sit on Appropriations in either the House or Senate since the late Senator Mark Hatfield 15 years ago.

In the arcane, playground rules of Congress, the Appropriations Committee is where individual members go to "work some magic" on a particularly important local project to their district. When you join this committee, you suddenly have lots of friends and forgotten relatives.

Merkley isn't your "bring home the bacon at any cost" kind of guy. But he isn't a fool, either. He faces re-election and needs to buck up support in rural parts of the state. Senate Appropriations is the perfect platform to become everyone's best buddy.

Washington Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell will assume the gavel of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes wrote that Cantwell's ascension to the chair of this committee vindicates the efforts by Washington Indian tribes to defeat former Senator Slade Gorton and elect Cantwell. They have gone from someone they despised to a committee chair they trust.

Senator Ron Wyden becomes chair of Senate Energy and Natural Resources, a committee bully pulpit for the Oregon Democrat to pursue progressive energy policies and steps to pump new life into traditional resource industries that could perk up rural economies. He remains on Senate Finance where he can push for his ideas on tax and Medicare reforms.

Maybe the biggest winner coming out of the 2012 elections is Washington Senator Patty Murray, who took on the thankless job of trying to preserve the Democratic majority in the Senate. Many Senate peacocks turned away from the challenge, but Murray warmed to it, winding up not only preserving the majority, but enhancing it.

In addition to her powerful perch on Senate Appropriations, Murray assumes the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee. Despite the powerful mantels of these positions, Murray will have even greater moral-suasion in the Senate Democratic caucus because of her successful defense of its majority. One of her first exercises of her new prestige will be to lasso funding for the I-5 bridge replacement.

Oregon's House Democrats remain in the minority, but Republican Congressman Greg Walden extended his influence in the majority caucus by being elected chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Walden didn't have to surrender his coveted spot on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee to land the assignment that many of his current and future colleagues depend on for campaign resources.

The Northwest hasn't quite returned to the halcyon days when Washington's Warren Magnuson and Oregon's Hatfield rules Senate Appropriations, Oregon Senator Bob Packwood chaired Senate Finance and Oregon Congressman Al Ullman chaired House Ways and Means. But it is a good start.