Sen. Patty Murray's clout is "sky high" in Washington, D.C., after running the Senate Democratic campaign committee, said Tim Peckinpaugh, the Tri-City Development Council's lobbyist.
He discussed the positives and negatives for Tri-City businesses in the national election this month and upcoming Congressional actions that could affect the Mid-Columbia, including Hanford, at a TRIDEC breakfast Friday in Richland.
Murray, D-Wash., "delivered big" for the Democrats during the campaign, Peckinpaugh said, putting Democrats in two more Senate seats for a Senate Democrat majority of 53 seats to the GOP's 45 seats and two independent seats.
She's also in line to become the next chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, giving her leadership when budgets are developed, while retaining her seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which allocates money to programs.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is next in line to be chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Peckinpaugh said.
In the House, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., is expected to continue as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee after talk that he might instead lead the House Rules Committee.
But offsetting gains in seniority for key figures in the Washington delegation representing the Tri-Cities is the loss of Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., who did not seek re-election after 36 years in Congress.
"It's a significant loss to Washington state," Peckinpaugh said. "He was a friend to the Tri-Cities."
Dicks was the top-ranked Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. Although he represented the 6th Congressional District in Western Washington, he has fought for the Hanford budget, to make B Reactor part of a national park, to create the HAMMER training center at Hanford and to build new labs at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
The good news is members of his staff are moving on to work with other Washington congressional leaders and their knowledge of the Tri-City area will provide continuing benefits, Peckinpaugh said.
Hanford has two important legislative issues that could advance in the remaining days until a new Congress is sworn in.
A bill to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park that would include Hanford's B Reactor has yet to be passed.
Hastings is aggressively working to get a bill passed in the House and has the majority of the House in support of the measure, Peckinpaugh said.
In the Senate, Peckinpaugh has not seen the same aggressive push for action. Supporters of the historical park would like to see the bill approved while retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., still chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Historic sites in Washington, New Mexico and Tennessee would be included in the new multisite national park.
But if Bingaman wants to have the bill heard in the Senate as a retiring senator, he'll likely be given that courtesy, Peckinpaugh said.
If the legislation does not pass this year, bills will be brought back next year. Then, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee likely will be led by Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.
Peckinpaugh called Wyden "a nuclear energy skeptic," but said Hanford cleanup is important to Oregon.
An omnibus appropriations bill, which would authorize Department of Energy spending at Hanford for the fiscal year that started in October, also is being discussed in Congress.
It's unlikely to be passed this calendar year, Peckinpaugh said. But work now will set the tone for next year, and he likes the direction Hanford funding is going in the potential omnibus bill, he said.
Next year, the top legislative priority in Washington, D.C., will be tax reform to broaden the tax base and eliminate deductions and exemptions, he said.
Now Congress is facing a fiscal cliff, a combination of a $399 billion tax increase Jan. 1 as the result of expiring tax credits and cuts and also spending cuts across the federal government totaling $109 billion under sequestration, he said.
Sequestration would trigger 8 percent to 10 percent cuts in Hanford spending.
In the most likely scenario in response to the fiscal cliff, Congress could pass legislation to maintain the status quo for up to a year while it works on the issue, Peckinpaugh said.