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Scott Bruun: How Ron Wyden Can Lead The U.S. Senate

Wednesday, December 03, 2014


U.S. Democratic Senator of Oregon, Ron Wyden, via Wikimedia Commons

Is it better to be lucky than good?  Or is luck simply when preparation meets opportunity?  In politics, both maxims usually hold true. That’s why the sweeping Republican victories in last month’s elections may prove to be the luckiest thing that could have happened to Oregon’s senior senator, Democrat Ron Wyden. 

Beginning in January, Republicans will assume solid control of the U.S. Senate and even stronger control of the U.S. House.   These changes will dramatically reduce the political effectiveness of congressional Democrats – especially those who cling to rabid partisanship or leftist ideological dogma. Our own Jeff Merkley, who struggled to eek-out a presence in a Democrat-controlled senate, will now be largely relegated to strongly-worded press releases and minor committee assignments.  And we shall see if Senator Merkley remains just as dedicated to filibuster “reform” now that he finds himself in the minority.   

On the other hand, Ron Wyden’s long congressional career and temperate personality may put him in an ideal positon.  It’s a stretch to say that Senator Wyden is a moderate. After all, he was first elected to one of the nation’s most liberal congressional districts – Oregon’s 3rd.  Yet over his 34 years of congressional service, and notably since his election to the senate in 1995, Wyden has looked for instances to provide forward progress through bipartisan cooperation.

Unlike 2010 and 2012, Republicans in this last election seemed to place as much priority on the art of governing as they did on conservative political philosophy. Turns out that these concepts are not mutually exclusive. Republicans will take votes on many large and controversial items, as they should. But they will also know that much of what they could accomplish will be limited by Obama’s veto pen. To govern, to avoid or at least mitigate the dysfunctional stalemate that has plagued national politics for years, Republicans will need to work with certain Democrats - like Ron Wyden. 

Senate Republicans should reach out to Wyden on several key fronts, including tax, trade and timber issues. Wyden should reciprocate or even attempt to lead the charge based on his experience and expertise. In either scenario, Oregon stands to benefit greatly.

Corporate tax rates in the U.S. are among the highest in the developed world. When coupled with Oregon’s business taxes, among the highest in the nation, the cost to do business in our state can be prohibitive.  Simply put, this means fewer jobs for Oregonians and fewer tax dollars for education.  Ron Wyden has already shown his desire for bipartisan tax reform.  A bipartisan tax bill co-sponsored by Wyden in 2015, one that reduced corporate rates while also limiting loopholes, would stand excellent chance of passage.  

Expanded Pacific Rim trade access would also be good for Oregon’s traded sector industries, where Oregon’s highest paying jobs are created. The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact which would link 12 Asia-Pacific nations with annual economic output of $28 trillion, would be hugely beneficial to Oregonians.  Yet even with strong Republican support, the trade pact has languished in congress.  As an Oregon Democrat, Wyden is well-positioned to play a vital role in its adoption.  Only Nixon could go to China.  So to, perhaps only a respected Democrat like Wyden can stand up to the grossly inaccurate anti-trade rhetoric of certain organized labor leaders.

Finally, Ron Wyden can and should play a lead role in revamping federal forest laws.  For more than two decades, Oregon’s greatest natural resource - and the jobs it creates - has been hamstrung by archaic timber policies and ceaseless litigation. Oregon is weaker, and poorer, because of this.  If he chooses to lead, Senator Wyden will find plenty of Republicans willing to help him in support of a balanced and sustainable forest policy.  A policy that, for once, intelligently protects our forests while also enabling Oregon’s wood product industries to succeed.

Success on any one of these fronts would help Oregon.  Success on all three would ensure Ron Wyden’s permanent political legacy as one of Oregon’s all-time most important senators.  Several weeks ago in these pages, harkening back to the days of Hatfield and Packwood, we lamented Oregon’s current lack of political giants.  Could be that all a prospective giant needs is a little luck, and the political acumen to embrace that luck for all it’s worth.

Scott Bruun is a fifth-generation Oregonian and recovering politician. He lives with his family in the 'burbs, yet dutifully commutes every day to Portland, where he earns his living on the fifth floor of Big Pink. 


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