It’s been a long time since Western New York wielded so much clout in Washington. While none of the three men who represent this area in Congress has the juice once held by former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, two members sit on one of the chamber’s most influential committees and the other has the ear of President Trump. That can only help this region.
Reps. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Tom Reed, R-Corning, are both members of the House Ways and Means Committee. That puts the two congressmen on the panel with authority over taxes, tariffs, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits and other programs. They stand to influence critical matters in the coming months and years.
In addition, Higgins serves on the Budget Committee, whose jurisdiction includes all bills and resolutions on the budget. It also monitors agencies and programs that are funded outside of the budgetary process. That’s important today.
Rep. Chris Collins, meanwhile, was the first member of the House to endorse Trump’s presidential campaign and, with that, won some degree of influence in the White House. He is an enthusiastic supporter of the president, though one who is willing to diverge on issues of importance to the region.
Together, the trio has the makings of a congressional dream team, at least in its potential. An open question is the degree to which a Democrat and two Republicans are willing and politically able to cooperate on what is best for the region. The national mood certainly doesn’t make that easy, but all three men, especially Higgins, have shown an interest in protecting the interests not just of their own districts, but of the region as a whole.
Magnifying the delegation’s possibilities is the political turmoil that Trump has invited. Whatever anyone thinks of Trump as president, his influence has been hurt over the past several weeks following his firing of former FBI Director James Comey, the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s meddlesome role in the election and Trump’s own habit of wading into the political quicksand. That elevates the openings for leadership by the region’s congressional delegation, which brings a range of experience to Washington.
Higgins is the senior member of the delegation, though he serves in the minority party. He was elected to Congress in 2004 and in that role, leveraged the federal relicensing of the Niagara Power Project to secure the funding that led to the creation of Canalside.
Higgins has a long history in politics, beginning with his 1988 election to the Buffalo Common Council. He also served as a member of the New York State Assembly and once taught in the history and economics departments at SUNY Buffalo State.
Reed, the former mayor of Corning, was first elected to Congress in 2010. He holds a law degree and also worked in real estate. Unlike Higgins, he has drawn serious opposition in his re-elections, but has always prevailed.
Collins is serving his third term in Congress, having first been elected in 2012. A businessman who owns his own company, he was elected Erie County executive in 2007. His defeat in 2011 gave him the opening to run for Congress. He defeated Kathy Hochul, who had won a special election the previous year following the resignation of Rep. Chris Lee. Hochul was later elected New York’s lieutenant governor. And, to bring matters full circle, Collins occupies the seat previously held by Reynolds.
Reynolds was a political powerhouse in Western New York. Before winning election to Congress, he was a member of the Erie County Legislature and then the New York State Assembly, where he rose to the rank of minority leader. In Congress, he served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. While he served, he had more power than any of today’s members.
That gives today’s delegation something to shoot for.