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Biography

Elected: Jan. 1996, term expires 2016, 3rd full term.

Born: May 3, 1949, Wichita, KS

Home: Portland, OR

Education: Stanford U., B.A. 1971, U. of OR, J.D. 1974

Professional Career: Co–dir. & co–founder, OR Gray Panthers, 1974–80; Dir., OR Legal Svcs. for the Elderly, 1977–79; Prof. of Gerontology, U. of OR, 1976, Portland St. U., 1979, U. of Portland, 1980.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Jewish

Family: Married (Nancy Bass) , 5 children (2 from previous marriage)

Ron Wyden, Oregon’s senior senator, was elected to the Senate in January 1996 after serving in the House. In 2013, he became chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; just over a year later, he took the gavel at the even higher-profile Finance Committee, bringing along his reputation for persistently trying to craft bipartisan deals on highly polarizing issues. He continued in 2015 as the panel's ranking Democrat.

Both of Wyden’s parents were Jewish and fled Nazi Germany. He grew up in California, graduated from Stanford University, and moved to Oregon to attend the University of Oregon law school. After graduating in 1974, he founded the Oregon chapter of the Gray Panthers, an advocacy group for the elderly. His first foray into electoral politics was sponsoring a successful referendum reducing the price of dentures. In 1980, at age 31, he boldly launched a primary challenge to Robert Duncan in the 3rd Congressional District, which covers most of Portland, and won 60%-40%. He went on to easily capture the seat in the heavily Democratic district.

Wyden’s way to the Senate was opened by the Senate Ethics Committee’s decision in September 1995 to expel Republican Sen. Bob Packwood for sexual harassment of former aides and lobbyists. Wyden, who had long been eyeing the seat, decided to run in the special election to replace Packwood. With his home base in Portland, where the local television broadcasts reach most of the state, Wyden had greater name identification than his competitors. But he had spirited opposition in the Democratic primary from Eugene-based Rep. Peter DeFazio, who carried his own district overwhelmingly, holding Wyden to a 50%-44% win. The Republican nomination went to state Senate President Gordon Smith, a frozen vegetable tycoon from eastern Oregon who spent $2 million of his own money. Most polls had the race in a dead heat, and negative ads flooded the airwaves. Wyden picked up strength the week before the Jan. 30 mail deadline and won 48%-47%.

Ten months later, Smith won the state’s other Senate seat, marking the first time two senators were elected who had run against each other in the same year. With the departure of Packwood and Republican Mark Hatfield, Oregon lost 56 years of Senate seniority and gained two senators who everyone expected would be bitter enemies. Instead they became friends and collaborators, holding dozens of joint town meetings across Oregon and having lunch every Thursday with their chiefs of staff. The bipartisan working alliance between the two ended in 2008, when Smith lost his reelection bid to Democrat Jeff Merkley.

In his years in Washington, Wyden has displayed a genius for coming up with sensible-sounding ideas no one else had thought of and for making the counterintuitive political alliances that prove helpful in passing bills. He says, “My record is based on the proposition that if you want to get anything done, it’s got to be bipartisan. But sometimes you have to stand alone.” An illustration was Wyden’s work with Maine Republican Olympia Snowe in early 2009. Wyden and Snowe astutely predicted that high-dollar bonuses and “golden parachutes” for executives of financial companies being bailed out by American taxpayers would be unpopular with the public, and they won passage of a provision in that year’s economic stimulus bill to prevent such bonus payments. But the stipulation was left out of the final bill at the insistence of the Obama administration, which said employees might sue to keep their bonuses. In March 2009, there was an outpouring of public anger over bonuses paid to employees of troubled insurance giant AIG, which embarrassed the administration and which would have been prevented by the Wyden-Snowe measure.

Wyden’s portfolio of interests is wide, ranging from Senate procedure to new technology. In 1997, he and Iowa Republican Charles Grassley called for disclosure of the names of senators who place holds on legislation, blocking it from consideration. Wyden and Grassley were rebuffed in their efforts for years but made slow progress. Finally, in January 2011, the Senate voted 92-4 to require public disclosure of holds after two days, ending the ability of a single senator to secretly stop legislation from advancing.

Another Wyden cause has been the Internet. He and former California Republican Rep. Christopher Cox sponsored the three-year ban on Internet taxation that passed in 1998. In 2001, they sought to extend the ban permanently but also set up a procedure to allow states to tax Internet sales if they adopt uniform sales tax rules and provide a means to remit sales taxes electronically. In 2004, the Senate passed a four-year extension that grandfathered in pre-1998 taxes and permitted states to apply telephone taxes to voice-over-Internet protocol (VOIP) services. Wyden has also worked on Internet privacy issues and on anti-spam legislation, which passed in 2003. In 2010, he worked to block action on a bill that would allow the government to bar credit card companies and ad networks from dealing with websites that engage in copyright infringement. Wyden told Wired that the approach was “like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile. The collateral damage of this statute could be American innovation, American jobs, and a secure Internet.”

Health care has long captured Wyden’s interest. He was one of 11 Senate Democrats to vote for the Republican-authored Medicare prescription drug law in 2003 in the face of criticism from fellow Democrats. “It wasn’t a bill I would have written. But I thought it was the right thing to do to get started,” he said. He won amendments creating a national commission on health care and extending a managed care option for rural Oregon. Later, with Snowe, he sponsored a bill to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. During the debate over health care reform, Wyden joined Republican Robert Bennett of Utah on a bill to replace the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance with a tax deduction for individuals to buy insurance from private insurers. They lined up six Democratic and four Republican co-sponsors and argued in 2009 that their approach would produce a bipartisan health care bill, with universal coverage. But the Obama administration and key Senate committee chairmen disagreed that changes in tax incentives alone would achieve the goal of insuring millions of Americans without health insurance. Wyden presciently predicted that the more government-heavy approach President Barack Obama favored would be a hard sell. He told The Wall Street Journal, “People don’t want the government in the driver’s seat.”

Wyden also argued that the Obama administration’s initiative did not inject enough competition into the system to improve the performance of health insurers and that it failed to give consumers more choices of health plans. He sponsored an amendment requiring employers to offer their employees a choice of at least two insurance plans, and also allowing more Americans access to the insurance exchanges—new insurance marketplaces—created by the legislation.

Wyden surprised much of Washington in December 2011 when he joined forces with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to offer a plan to partially privatize and radically transform Medicare. The Democratic Party had already campaigned against—and strongly condemned—Ryan’s budget blueprint to change Medicare, and Wyden’s move undermined the party’s message. The Obama White House said the plan would “end Medicare as we know it.” Wyden and Ryan’s plan would have allowed insurers to compete with traditional Medicare and given patients subsidies that they could use for either fee-for-service Medicare or private insurance. Ryan was later chosen as Republican Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential race. In arguing that the Ryan Medicare plan had bipartisan support, the Romney campaign frequently cited Wyden. But Wyden mostly disavowed his previous support, and he has since voted against the Ryan budget in the Senate.

Wyden's ascension to the chairmanship of Finance became possible when Montana's Max Baucus was named U.S. ambassador to China in early 2014 and their ambitious colleague, New York's Chuck Schumer, decided against challenging Wyden. He signaled he would run the committee with less of a heavy hand than Baucus, letting subcommittee chairs know that they would have more of an ability to hold their own hearings. He worked with Utah's Orrin Hatch, the panel's ranking Republican, on a proposal to rescue the Highway Trust Fund in part by instituting a series of measures aimed at achieving better compliance with existing tax laws -- a move that drew criticism from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.

For some years, Wyden has promoted a restructuring of the tax code akin to the reform bill of 1986, including reductions in tax rates and an expansion of the tax base by eliminating tax preferences and deductions. In 2010, he and Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire sponsored a measure with three income tax brackets (15%, 25%, 35%), a lower corporate tax rate, and immediate expensing of inventory and equipment for businesses with receipts under $1 million. Wyden reintroduced the bill in 2011, undaunted by conventional wisdom that Congress is too politically polarized to accomplish major tax reform, Wyden told The Oregonian newspaper, “Tax reform is absolutely, totally completely impossible until 15 minutes before it comes together.”

Wyden voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002 and opposed Obama’s plan to add troops in Afghanistan in 2009. He also voted against the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry in 2008 and was one of 13 Democrats who joined with Republicans in trying to end the Troubled Asset Relief Program in January 2010. In March 2013, Wyden was the only Democrat to stand on the floor with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., while Paul filibustered John Brennan’s CIA director nomination, a protest of the Obama White House’s use of controversial drone strikes. Wyden did vote to confirm Brennan, but he called on the administration for more documents related to its drone policy. In 2011, Wyden joined Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., in introducing an amendment to force the Justice Department’s inspector general to estimate how many Americans were having email and phone calls monitored as part of anti-terrorism efforts, but the Senate Intelligence Committee shot down the proposal. In early August 2011, Wyden placed a temporary hold on the intelligence authorization bill over lack of transparency about surveillance.

He remained one of the Obama administration's leading critics after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's explosive revelations in mid-2013 of domestic government snooping. He joined with Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky on an NSA reform bill, and was the only Democrat who ventured onto the Senate floor to join Paul’s 13-hour filibuster protesting the administration’s use of drones. At a March 2014 hearing, Wyden blasted intelligence officials for what he called a "pattern of deception" and for creating a "culture of misinformation."

Wyden has been a staunch defender of the state’s assisted-suicide law, the only one like it in the nation, and has fought various legislative attempts to nullify the law over the years. In February 2013, Wyden and Senate counterpart Merkley introduced a bill to legalize industrial hemp. He has sponsored the county payments law, under which Oregon counties and rural school districts are paid $250 million a year to compensate for revenues lost due to federal restrictions on logging; it has brought in more than $2 billion to the state.

Wyden’s attention to state issues, and to keeping up his visibility at home—he holds open forums in all 36 counties every year, even in heavily Republican eastern Oregon—has paid off at election time. He won a full term in November 1998 by 61%-34%. In 2004, he won easy reelection against a little known candidate 63%-32%. In 2010, he was opposed by Lewis and Clark law professor James Huffman. After the May primary, Wyden had $3.7 million and Huffman $224,000. In a heavily Republican year, Wyden won by the reduced margin of 57%-39%. His hard work in eastern Oregon paid off when he lost there by only 51%-46%.

Wyden underwent prostate surgery in December 2010 and made a quick recovery, voting on the Senate floor two days later. At age 63, Wyden had his fifth child—and his third with his current wife—in December 2012. His wife, Nancy Bass Wyden, co-owns New York City's venerated Strand Bookstore.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5244

(202) 228-2717

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 221
Washington, DC 20510-3703

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5244

(202) 228-2717

DSOB- Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 221
Washington, DC 20510-3703

DISTRICT OFFICE

(503) 326-7525

911 Northeast 11th Avenue Suite 630
Portland, OR 97232

DISTRICT OFFICE

(503) 326-7525

(503) 326-7528

911 NE 11th Avenue Suite 630
Portland, OR 97232

DISTRICT OFFICE

(541) 330-9142

The Jamison Building Suite 107
Bend, OR 97701-2957

DISTRICT OFFICE

(541) 330-9142

(541) 330-6266

The Jamison Building Suite 107
Bend, OR 97701-2957

DISTRICT OFFICE

(541) 431-0229

405 East Eighth Avenue Suite 2020
Eugene, OR 97401

DISTRICT OFFICE

(541) 431-0229

(541) 431-0610

405 East Eighth Avenue Suite 2020
Eugene, OR 97401

DISTRICT OFFICE

(541) 858-5122

(541) 858-5126

Federal Courthouse Room 118
Medford, OR 97501-2700

DISTRICT OFFICE

(541) 858-5122

Federal Courthouse Room 118
Medford, OR 97501-2700

DISTRICT OFFICE

(541) 962-7691

(541) 963-0885

SAC Annex Building Suite 201
La Grande, OR 97850-2661

DISTRICT OFFICE

(541) 962-7691

SAC Annex Building Suite 201
La Grande, OR 97850-2661

DISTRICT OFFICE

(503) 589-4555

707 13th Street, SE Suite 285
Salem, OR 97301-4087

DISTRICT OFFICE

(503) 589-4555

(503) 589-4749

707 Thirteenth Street, SE Suite 285
Salem, OR 97301-4087

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

(503) 230-7115

PO Box 3498
Portland, OR 97208

CAMPAIGN OFFICE

PO Box 3498
Portland, OR 97208

EXPORT CONTACTS » *

Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Aerospace

Ben Widness
Senior Advisor for Defense and Foreign Policy

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Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Erin Fauerbach
Natural Resources Counsel

Malcolm McGeary
Legislative Aide

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Ali Houlihan
Legislative Correspondent

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Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

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Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Lindsey Stanford
Legislative Aide

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Laura Berntsen
Chief Human Services Advisor

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Laura Berntsen
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Thomas Brunet
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Lindsey Stanford
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Lindsey Stanford
Legislative Aide

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Laura Berntsen
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Trevor Jones
Legislative Aide

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Keith Chu
Press Secretary

Wesley Look
Advisor for Energy and Environment

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Keith Chu
Press Secretary

Wesley Look
Advisor for Energy and Environment

Erin Fauerbach
Natural Resources Counsel

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Laura Berntsen
Chief Human Services Advisor

Foreign

Ben Widness
Senior Advisor for Defense and Foreign Policy

Keith Chu
Press Secretary

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Laura Berntsen
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Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Grants

Ali Houlihan
Legislative Correspondent

Health

Laura Berntsen
Chief Human Services Advisor

Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Lindsey Stanford
Legislative Aide

Homeland Security

Ben Widness
Senior Advisor for Defense and Foreign Policy

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Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Human Rights

Laura Berntsen
Chief Human Services Advisor

Immigration

Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

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Keith Chu
Press Secretary

Sharia Mayfield
Advisor on National Security and Intellegence

Internet

Trevor Jones
Legislative Aide

Judiciary

Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Trevor Jones
Legislative Aide

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Laura Berntsen
Chief Human Services Advisor

Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Ali Houlihan
Legislative Correspondent

Military

Ben Widness
Senior Advisor for Defense and Foreign Policy

National Security

Sharia Mayfield
Advisor on National Security and Intellegence

Privacy

Trevor Jones
Legislative Aide

Recreation

Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Science

Ben Widness
Senior Advisor for Defense and Foreign Policy

Seniors

Thomas Brunet
Legislative Counsel

Social Security

Ali Houlihan
Legislative Correspondent

Tax

Ali Houlihan
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

Trevor Jones
Legislative Aide

Telecommunications

Trevor Jones
Legislative Aide

Trade

Keith Chu
Press Secretary

Malcolm McGeary
Legislative Aide

Transportation

Erin Fauerbach
Natural Resources Counsel

Trevor Jones
Legislative Aide

Veterans

Ben Widness
Senior Advisor for Defense and Foreign Policy

Election Results

2010 GENERAL
Ron Wyden
Votes: 825,507
Percent: 57.22%
Jim Huffman
Votes: 566,199
Percent: 39.25%
2010 PRIMARY
Ron Wyden
Votes: 333,652
Percent: 89.55%
Loren Hooker
Votes: 25,152
Percent: 6.75%
2004 GENERAL
Ron Wyden
Votes: 1,128,728
Percent: 63.0%
Al King
Votes: 565,254
Percent: 32.0%
2004 PRIMARY
Ron Wyden
Unopposed
Prior Winning Percentages
2004 (63%), 1998 (61%), 1996 special (48%); House: 1994 (73%), 1992 (77%), 1990 (81%), 1988 (99%), 1986 (86%), 1984 (72%), 1982 (78%), 1980 (72%)

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