It’s been about eight months since Oregon Representative Greg Walden went from an up and coming force in the Republican house minority, to a lead player in the new Republican majority.
Walden chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. He’s also chairman of the House Republican Leadership, where he works closely with Speaker of the House John Boehner. David Nogueras went to Washington, D.C. to find out how his role has changed.
In an earlier version of this story and on-air, we misstated the number of members in the House Republican Leadership. The actual number is 12. OPB regrets the error.
It’s a weekday afternoon and House lawmakers are milling about after a floor vote. Some faces are familiar from the evening news. Democrat Nancy Pelosi emerges from the House Cloakroom flanked by her staff. Republican Congressman Peter King stands chatting with a young man in a tie, a reporter, or possibly a staffer. And hey, there’s Oregon Representative Greg Walden.
"Walden isn’t one of the top names in Washington that you typically hear. When you think of House Republicans you think of John Boehner. You think of Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy," says David Wasserman House editor with The Cook Political Report.
“But within the Republican Congress Walden is seen as more of a work horse and not a show horse and that’s earned him a lot of friends.”
After the election, House Speaker John Boehner hand-picked Walden to lead the Republican transition. And now Walden is one of a dozen House members who make up the Republican House Leadership.
And that means Walden’s in demand. He squeezes our interviews into two brief time periods, scheduled around floor votes and a meeting with aides on the subcommittee he chairs.
I ask Walden if his new role in the House leadership is a help or a hindrance to the work he does on behalf of Oregon’s 2nd district. Without a doubt he says, it’s a help.
"Whenever you’re sitting at the leadership table or working with leadership all the time, which we do, when things do come up affecting your district, you’ve got a direct source right to the top. And you get a lot of support from the committee chairs and others because they want to be helpful. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get everything. You’ve got to still make your case and you’ve got to still live within the confines that we’re operating under. But at least you get a better chance,” Walden says.
Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman says one reason Walden has been successful within the party is his affability. He’s not seen as a partisan flamethrower.
"He has the ability to reach across the aisle. He has to, because he’s in the minority in the delegation from Oregon. But he’s someone who’s won respect from both Republicans and Democrats in the House," according to Wasserman.
Brian Baird is one such Democrat. Baird represented Washington’s 3rd Congressional District and often worked with Walden on timber-related issues before retiring. Baird says Walden maintains an even keel.
"So it makes him very pleasant person to work with because you believe his motives are spot on. Whether you agree 100 percent or not on particular issues, I have no doubt about Greg Walden’s motives. I’m 100 percent convinced he’s there for the good of his constituents, his state and for our country and he’s willing to work with people to try to achieve those goals.”
Walden’s congressional district -- Oregon’s 2nd – is one of the largest in the country. In terms of square miles, it’s larger than most U.S. states.
According to Keith Chu, associate editor for Platts Inside Energy, it's a “very conservative district, Republicans have a very large registration edge.
For 6 years, Chu covered Walden as a reporter for the Bend Bulletin.
"And he’s done, just based on voting results, he’s done a good job of satisfying them. He won by 75 percent almost in the last election. So clearly he’s figured out whatever the secret is to winning votes there."
Walden says he tries to visit each county in his district at least twice a year. He says he listens to his constituents and addresses the issues that are important to them. He’s heavily involved in forestry issues, and in providing access to rural health care.
Recently, Walden has been trying to address Prineville’s need for water. He introduced legislation that would allow the city to access 5,100 acre feet of water to meet its future growth needs. The bill would also remove the Bowman dam from a Wild and Scenic River designation along the lower Crooked River by redrawing its boundaries. It would also allow for small-scale hydropower development.
Music plays in the background at a recent luncheon at the Bend Rotary Club. Walden is the featured speaker and he’s brought a stack of poster board graphs to talk about the nation’s budget crisis.
"And so here’s a look back as far back as 2004 in terms of deficits. As you can see they just balloon..." Walden explains.
The situation is grim, he says. Walden tells the crowd the United States is borrowing 41 cents on the dollar. The nation's debt has doubled in the last four year, he says and will continue to do so if nothing is done.
"If it were a business, they would have bolted your doors and sent you away. If this were a bank, the FDIC would have visited you long ago. This is your government and ours and we’re leaving a debt to the next generation that is both unprecedented and unconscionable."
The message is a familiar one. It’s part of the platform that Republicans ran on in 2010 election. That election gave Republicans a majority in the House. And Walden was a key player in that effort, as second in command of the National Republican Congressional Committee or the NRCC.
But the deficit debate cuts two ways for Republicans at the local level, when it comes to bringing federal dollars home. And Walden’s no exception. For example, he’s been a proponent of Secure Rural School Funds. Those are federal payments made to counties in lieu of lost timber receipts.
Walden recently testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest, and Public Lands.
"Our communities don’t even want the status quo. They don’t want the handout that’s made them dependent on the federal government. They want jobs. They want healthy forests. They’re tired of the catastrophic fire and the bug infestation. They’re sick of the budgeting uncertainty that comes with not knowing if Uncle Sam will pay his fair share," he said.
But while Walden supports forest management that would allow for more timber production, he concedes increased production alone won’t solve the problem. And since government regulation scaled back timber harvests, he’s says the government has a obligation to keep the payments coming.
"I think it has to be both, at least in the interim. Because whatever we would do in changing federal forest management policy even if passed soon wouldn’t have an effect for a year or two. And so I think it’s going to have to be a combination.”
However, new House rules that Walden helped create would prevent such payments from being made unless they could be offset by cuts somewhere else.
Keith Chu, who covered Walden for the Bend Bulletin, points out Walden has taken past votes that contribute to spending by the federal government even today.
“In the past, Congressman Walden has voted for some big government bills, you know Medicare Part D which wasn’t paid for in the D.C. parlance. It increased the deficit. If you’re talking about keeping government spending down, that’s something that’s done the opposite.”
But these are different times. Each Monday, Walden takes part in strategy sessions with the other House GOP leaders. He says conversations circle back to the same thing.
"How do you get the economy going again? We need to get on that agenda and reduce the regulations and try and get the economy moving. A lot of us were in business. Boehner was. I was. McCarthy was. A lot of us were. And so we talk about, you know the one thing that matters most in business is positive cash flow. So how do you generate that? And then the second question is how do we deal with America’s debt crisis?”
As a member of that inner circle, Greg Walden is clearly a player in the heated debate over raising the debt ceiling -- a debate that will shape the nation’s fiscal future.