INDIANAPOLIS — U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, will be in a position to exercise significant influence over a wide variety of federal spending and policy measures when the new Democratic-controlled U.S. House convenes Jan. 3.
The 18-term congressman is expected to become chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, pending approval by the full House Democratic Caucus.
Defense spending is one of the largest components of the federal budget, and one of the few areas where Republican President Donald Trump, and the Republican-controlled Senate, have favored boosting funding.
In the 2019 budget year that began Oct. 1, Congress appropriated $674.6 billion for defense, up from $589.5 billion during the 2018 budget year.
As defense appropriations subcommittee chairman, Visclosky would have a major say in where and how that massive pool of military and armaments funding will go in future years.
In addition, Visclosky is set in January to become the seventh longest-serving current House member out of 435 representatives, and will rank third in seniority among the Democratic majority — giving him a leading role in decisions concerning the policy direction of House Democrats.
Visclosky vowed in a written statement to use his newfound authority to benefit the Region constituents who have backed him since he first took his seat in Congress in 1985.
"Throughout my career, I have focused on supporting the Northwest Indiana steel industry and union workers, transformational investments in our transportation and economic infrastructure, and more open and public access to our lakeshore," he said.
"I have fought for these endeavors for most of my career as a member of the minority party in the House, and I will continue to fight for these same priorities as a member of the majority party."
Bill Hanna, president of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, said given the importance of seniority in how Congress operates, there's no question that the Region's congressman soon will be shaping key national debates.
"Being on that particular committee, given the high percentage of the national budget that it affects and given that the House is the place that the budget originates, Pete Visclosky becomes a very important voice in terms of an awful lot of issues," Hanna said.
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"I'm also pleased, as a veteran, to have him have that kind of voice in terms of the national defense budget."
Hanna expects Visclosky's new significance, combined with former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's position as vice president, can help the RDA secure federal funding for the South Shore Line double-track project between Gary and Michigan City, and construction of the commuter rail line's West Lake extension between Hammond and Dyer.
"Indiana is in a very unique position right now, and I can't help but think that it helps us trying to move our project forward," Hanna said.
"It's not often that this happens. If you think about the time it takes to ascend to that level, it's not likely to happen again in my lifetime."
Hanna also noted that Visclosky's influence on Capitol Hill goes beyond his formal positions.
Visclosky has an outstanding rapport with fellow lawmakers from Indiana, such as U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., and legislators from across the country that's not limited to just one side of the partisan aisle, Hanna said.
"I think there's a lot of respect for Pete among his colleagues," Hanna said. "They're entrusting him with a huge amount of responsibility."
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody likewise observed that Visclosky has built up considerable goodwill in Washington without neglecting the people who send him there, or the issues that affect their lives.
"Certainly any time we can have a Democrat with an increased amount of influence representing us in Congress, that's a good thing," Zody said.
Visclosky's victory in Tuesday's election moved him past his 1st District predecessor, U.S. Rep. Ray Madden, and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton as Indiana's longest-serving representative.
Should Visclosky run again and win in 2020, he would top former U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., for the longest tenure of any Hoosier elected official on Capitol Hill.