U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, has only been in Congress for three years, but he recently accomplished something his predecessor, eight-term Congressman John McHugh, didn't: He was appointed to the House's influential Appropriations Committee.
The Appropriations Committee oversees virtually all federal spending and is considered to be one of the House's most powerful committees, according to SUNY Potsdam Professor Jack McGuire, who said recently that Owens will now be heavily courted by lobbyists from all corners of the country.
Owens represents New York's 21st Congressional District, a vast region which includes Hamilton and Fulton counties.
Owens said in a phone interview that he sought out membership on the Appropriations Committee but didn't expect to get appointed. To be considered, Owens wrote a letter to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, who co-chairs the House Democratic Steering Committee, in early December. Several weeks later, DeLauro contacted Owens to tell him the appointment had been approved, and it was formalized on Jan. 4.
"In truth, I was a bit surprised when it happened," Owens said.
Owens said he will now have more influence on federal spending, although he's still in the minority party.
"I think that for a number of reasons, that's very helpful to the district," he said. "It allows you to have input on virtually every issue that is going on in the government today. It continues my ability to help on Armed Services in Fort Drum. It continues my ability to help with [agricultural] issues, with the border, with schools and education - virtually everything that impacts people in the district comes before this committee."
McGuire noted that House Democratic leadership would have flagged Owens' name prior to him seeking the committee assignment. He said he thinks Owens got the assignment because his district is leaning Democratic more than in the past. In the 2012 election, incumbent Barack Obama fared far better than challenger Mitt Romney in most of the North Country, and Owens has won three consecutive elections.
McGuire said Democrats want to hold onto the seat.
"So how can you hold onto that seat? Put somebody on that committee who might be able to serve the district well," he said.
Chris Morris writes for The Adirondack Daily Enterprise.