Roll Call

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.

Long Lines Traced to Budget Sequester

Want to find evidence of the federal budget sequester having an effect? Just look at the long, soggy lines outside Capitol office buildings where people are waiting because overtime for Capitol Police guards has been trimmed. [Credit: CQ Roll Call]If you want to know where federal budget sequestration really hurts, ask the people standing in line in the rain to get into one of the House and Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill.

To avoid "compromising security" because of the loss of overtime pay for guards, the Capitol Police closed a dozen entrances around the Capitol. As a result, Roll Call reports there were lines of people, stretching in some cases an entire block, waiting to get in a building to meet with their congressman or senator. Some probably missed their appointments. Everyone got soaked.

And the long lines won't disappear any time soon, Capitol Police say. They don't have the staff levels, with budget cuts, to reduce the congestion.

Trying to find the silver lining, some congressional staffers are taking pains to advise visitors to show up early so they aren't late for their Capitol Hill appointments. They might be treading on tender feelings by noting the lines are the result of the inability of Congress to find a budget compromise to replace large, across-the-board spending cuts.

Road Congestion and Political Gridlock

The cost of congestion continues to rise, but not enough apparently to break political gridlock on how to modernize, expand and diversify the nation's aging transportation system.A new report says bumper-to-bumper congestion on American roads and highways cost the economy $121 billion in 2011 in lost hours of work and wasted fuel. The cost of congestion is predicted to rise to almost $200 billion by 2020.

The report says Portland has the sixth worst commutes in the country, resulting from a relatively small, circular freeway system that bunches up traffic, especially when there are multiple accidents or bad weather conditions. Portlanders drive fewer miles, one of the report authors says, but travel times can be unreliable and often stressful.

Meanwhile, political gridlock in the nation's capital and many state legislatures is blocking measures to invest in roads and bridges. Roll Call's John Boyd reports President Obama backed off his call for new money for transportation in negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff. Senators from both political parties, Boyd adds, flirted with a transportation funding package in the lame duck session last year, but gave up.

While motorists dislike congestion, they appear to hate proposals to raise the gas tax, switch to a mileage-based fee, resort to toll-ways or pay in some manner for road use if they drive an alternative fuel vehicle. An sudden, sharp jump in gas prices in the last two weeks hasn't made motorists less grumpy.