Oregon's delegation has been busy in the first few days of the new Congress, and it's possible that some of the measures members are pushing might finally make headway this session.
But, on the whole, probably not.
With Democrats gaining control of the House of Representatives and Republicans strengthening their edge in the Senate, it seems more likely that this session isn't going to offer much beyond gridlock.
That's why some of these lawmakers might be drawn to areas in which at least some bipartisan agreement seems possible. That's why you might want to keep an eye on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, now chaired by Rep. Peter DeFazio. the Springfield Democrat.
Since 2015, DeFazio has been the ranking member of the committee, but assumes the chairman's post now that Democrats are in the majority in the House.
After the midterm elections, politicians on both sides of the aisle, including President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, pointed to infrastructure as an area where both parties could agree. In fact, after the election, DeFazio said he planned to push for a bill to address some of the nation's long-neglected transportation and infrastructure issues.
DeFazio continues to hold out hope that he can work with Trump on infrastructure.
But here's the big question that still needs to be solved in all of this: How will we pay for those projects?
There was a time, DeFazio has said, when Trump appeared amenable to increasing the federal gas tax, which hasn't been boosted since 1993. But then administration officials opted instead for an infrastructure plan that relied heavily on the notion of privatization, which may not be particularly effective for areas like the mid-valley, where private contractors might not be able to get the return on investment they need.
Nevertheless, if this session of Congress quickly bogs down into a partisan quagmire, its members might start casting around for areas in which progress can be made — and the spotlight could fall on DeFazio's committee.
On another front, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the Portland Democrat, have reintroduced their bill to expand Oregon's vote-by-mail system nationwide. The act would require every state to provide registered voters the opportunity to vote by mail. The bill also requires states to ensure that each citizen who provides identifying information to their state motor vehicle authority would be automatically registered to vote; in other words, it would expand Oregon's motor-voter law to the other states.
As you know, we are big fans of Oregon's vote-by-mail system for a number of reasons, and we won't belabor them here. But our hunch is that the real progress here will come from states as they discover for themselves the benefits of voting by mail. In addition, we keep waiting to see the names of Republican senators lining up to sponsor the bill, and we wait thus far in vain — although the list of sponsors in the Senate does contain an impressive number of potential presidential candidates, including Sen. Jeff Merkley.
Finally, Wyden has reintroduced legislation that would require President Trump to release his tax returns. Presidents and presidential candidates have released their tax returns for decades, but Trump has thus far declined to do so.
Wyden told The Oregonian newspaper that these releases are "just a price of being part of the great American system of government. Trump blew off that tradition."
Of course, since Wyden is in the minority in the Senate, the chances of this bill making any headway are slim.
On occasion, Congress has shown a surprising ability to get something substantial done in a bipartisan manner: The recent criminal justice reform was a good example. There might be opportunities in this session for other bipartisan wins, but our hunch is they're likely to be at least somewhat obscured by the political heat and dust of the next two years. (mm)