Image for Northwest Senators Gain Clout from Democratic Takeover of Senate

A new Congress and a new Democratic majority in the Senate has created new opportunities for members of the Oregon and Washington delegations. Here is a look at the positions held by the two states’ congressional delegations and some of their legislative priorities:

Among the biggest changes is Oregon Senator Ron Wyden assuming the chairmanship of Senate Finance, which is in charge of tax policy, Social Security, reciprocal trade agreements and transportation of durable goods. In the previous Congress, Wyden was the ranking Democrat on the committee. Wyden recently outlined his priorities for the panel this Congress, with tax reform for the ultra-wealthy and lowering health care costs at the top of the list. Wyden was elected to the Senate in 1996 replacing Bob Packwood who chaired Senate Finance from 1985 to 1987.

Washington Senator Patty Murray becomes chair of Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. Murray has quietly become one of the most powerful members of Congress. As the third ranking Democrat in the Senate, she has often been enlisted to defend the party’s priorities and work out bipartisan deals. 

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley steps into the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, who garnered national attention for her role in support of former President Trump’s second impeachment, remains on the House Appropriations Committee, along with fellow Washington Congressmen Dan Newhouse and Derek Kilmer. 

The Appropriations Committees in both chambers look likely to regain their once-notorious power as they will carry out the revival of earmarks, which Democratic leadership recently committed to restoring this Congress. The combination of Murray, Merkley and several House members on the spending panels positions the Pacific Northwest well to take advantage of such a change. 

Washington Congressman Adam Smith, whose district includes Joint Base Lewis-McCord with a population approaching 300,000, will retain chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Rick Larsen serves as the third ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. Larsen also continues on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and as the Chairman of its Aviation Subcommittee, he is one of the most influential voices on aviation, air travel and aircraft manufacturing issues. 

Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio remains chair of House Transportation and Infrastructure, a position he’s held since 2018. DeFazio will work closely with President Biden on a robust infrastructure package, what many expect to be the next priority of the administration after it secures additional pandemic relief. He’ll also lead the effort in the House to pass a massive five-year surface transportation bill later this year. 

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell becomes the first woman to chair the Senate Commerce, Education and Science Committee. Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio will lead the effort in the House to pass a massive five-year surface transportation bill later this year.

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell becomes the first woman to ever chair the Senate Commerce, Education and Science Committee. Cantwell also serves on two other “A” list committees, Finance and Energy and Natural Resources.

Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, formerly the fourth-ranking member of the House GOP, was selected as the Ranking Member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. She will serve alongside Washington Congresswoman Kim Schrier and Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader on the committee. Schrier also will serve on the House Agriculture Committee and Schrader is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus and Blue Dog Coalition. 

Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer moves up in the House Ways and Means pecking order to chair the Trade Subcommittee. In one of his first actions, Blumenauer scheduled a hearing on trade infrastructure for global competitiveness. No Oregonian has held a Ways and Means gavel since Congressman Al Ullman, who chaired the committee from 1974 to 1980 before he was defeated for re-election. Washington Congresswoman Suzan Delbene is also on the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici will continue as chair of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services and retains her seat on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. A prominent member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal will serve on the House Budget, Education & Labor and Judiciary committees this Congress.