Jeff Mapes

The Intersection of Clout and Dysfunction

Oregon is gaining seniority and political clout in Congress, but is that power as effective as it once was in a Congress known more for its dysfunction than its accomplishments?Oregon may be on the threshold of reaping the benefits of congressional seniority as members of the state delegation move into higher-profile and more powerful positions. But Oregonian political reporter Jeff Mapes wonders whether seniority in a dysfunctional Congress is as important as it once was.

For years, Oregon power brokers jealously eyed the political clout of Washington's delegation, with Warren Magnuson as chair of Senate Appropriations and his protégé Congressman Norm Dicks as a rising star in House Appropriations. When asked about the value of chairing Senate Appropriations, Magnuson famously said it was all about sharing — if Alabama got a project funded, then one was funded in Washington; if Maine got a project funded, then another one was funded in Washington.

Oregon experienced its own political heyday when Mark Hatfield as chair of Senate Appropriations, Bob Packwood as chair of Senate Finance, Al Ullman as chair of House Ways and Means and Bob Duncan and later Les AuCoin as members of House Appropriations. Hatfield didn't approach his chairmanship with the same swagger as Magnuson, but he still managed to bring home a lot of bacon.

Oregonian Tabbed to Lead Supercommittee

Mark Prater, who grew up in Oregon, graduated from Portland State University, took his law degree from Willamette University and worked for former Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, was named today as staff director for the high-visibility House and Senate committee tasked with chopping billions off the federal deficit.

Prater is deputy staff director and chief tax counsel for Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee. He was chosen for his new assignment by Washington Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat, and Texas Congressman Jeb Hensarling, a Republican. The co-chairs cited his reputation for hard work and cutting deals.

However, Prater may have been chosen because he is one of the few people on Capitol Hill able to gain trust on the full spectrum of political ideology. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called Prater an "honest broker who has garnered the respect and admiration from both sides of the aisle.

Some Democrats grumbled at the choice, but others noted Prater was involved in major budget deals in 1990 and 1997 and reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program in 2007. "If anyone knows how to create a fair, balanced solution that can make everyone a winner in a difficult situation like this, it's Mark Prater," said one Democratic aide.

Packwood told The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes that Prater's selection was a "four-star appointment."