The new year begins with public confidence in Congress at the perhaps the lowest level in history. By way of comparison, 36 percent of the public have either a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the presidency. The measure for confidence in the Supreme Court is 34 percent. But for Congress, the figure drops to just 10 percent.

In recent years, members of Congress have spent more time blaming others for the nation's ills than in actively seeking solutions. With Democrats controlling the Senate and Republicans controlling the House, that has been a fairly easy game for members of both parties to play. But that may be about to change with Republicans firmly in control of both House and Senate.

House Republicans will have a more difficult time blaming the Senate for the lack of cooperation, just as majority party in the Senate will have a more difficult time laying blame on the House.

There is no shortage of major issues awaiting the attention of Congress. Some of those issues include U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, Iran's nuclear program, meeting the nation's energy needs, dealing with the drought in the Western states, tax reform and business regulation.

With the GOP so firmly in control of Congress, Idaho's most under-reported news story has to be the emergence of the Idaho congressional delegation as potentially one of the most influential and powerful state delegations in the country. It is a delegation in which three-quarters of its members hold sway over committees or subcommittees that focus on major U.S. public policy areas. And for the most part these aren't just Idaho-centric issues. Rather, they are issues that impact the entire nation and, in some instances, much of the world.

The most remarkable power player to emerge from the Idaho delegation is the junior member of the delegation, Sen.Jim Risch. As a state legislator, he took little interest in public policy areas and instead focused his attention on the inner workings of the Legislature. Now, six years into his U.S. Senate service, he is about to have a leadership role in a plethora of major federal policy areas.

If you are a small business owner and are concerned about federal regulations impacting small business, he is your go-to person. Risch is now a senior member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and in line for a possible chairmanship.

Likewise, if you are concerned about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Arab North Africa, including the nations of Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Israel, then Risch deserves your attention. He is now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and Central Asian Affairs. In fact, he is now the No. 2 ranking Republican on the full Foreign Relations Committee.

Like many Americans, perhaps you are concerned about the need to ensure that Wall Street and the banking industry not provide the catalyst for another economic meltdown. If that is the case, then Sen. Mike Crapo is the person you will want to talk to. He is edging closer toward becoming the new chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. This is the Senate committee with jurisdiction over housing finance, financial institutions and consumer protection, Wall Street oversight and the Federal Reserve.

In recent years, Crapo has been talking about taking a leading role in initiating major tax reform. Now is his opportunity. The jurisdiction for tax policy and oversight of the Internal Revenue Service is the Senate Finance Committee and Crapo is the third-ranking Republican on the committee.

Unlike Idaho's two senators, Congressman Mike Simpson isn't stepping up into a new position of power. He was already in a position of power in the majority party in the House.

Simpson is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of a subcommittee. An indication of the power that subcommittee chairmen of that committee hold is that they are generally referred to as cardinals.

Simpson chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development Programs. If you are interested in the funding of water projects that might assist in dealing with the Western drought, Simpson is your man.

Similarly, if you are interested in the future of the Idaho National Laboratory, one of the five largest employers in Idaho, he should be your focal point. He also is the No. 2 ranking Republican on the subcommittee that appropriates funds for both the Bureau of Land Managment and the U.S. Forest Service, two agencies with a major say on public lands issues in Idaho.

The only member of the Idaho delegation with neither a chairmanship nor significant seniority is Congressman Raul Labrador. Perhaps his best opportunity to exert a degree of influence in public policy will be from his position on the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, where he is the fifth ranking Republican member. In the past, he has indicated interest in playing a leadership role in comprehensive immigration reform. With GOP control of both House and Senate, this will be his opportunity to demonstrate his potential effectiveness.

Just because one party now controls the House and Senate, the public shouldn't expect to see immediate results in dealing with major issues. But in a number of instances, Idaho's delegation is in a position to determine both the direction and the speed at which Congress deals with significant issues.

In the coming months, I look forward to tracking and reporting on whatever progress they may be making.


Peterson is a native of the Lewiston Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.


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