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Updated Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 10:01 PM

In lame-duck Congress, DelBene faces a full plate of issues

By Kyung M. Song
Seattle Times Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — Running for Congress is grueling, but so is finally landing the job.

Just a week after her first electoral victory, Suzan DelBene is now a member of Congress facing big votes on tax cuts, budget reductions and entitlement programs — all while juggling a two-week orientation on Capitol Hill, assembling staff and finding a place to live.

It's made for hectic first days for someone who was largely disengaged politically until she decided to first run for office nearly four years ago. DelBene, a Democrat, is one of three freshmen-elect who were seated immediately to fill vacancies in their districts.

"Definitely being sworn in yesterday evening made it very real," DelBene said Wednesday, sounding equal parts elated and overwhelmed.

Other members of the state's congressional delegation have reached out to ease DelBene's transition from candidate to politician. Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen of Lake Stevens has been particularly helpful by lending staff and guidance with logistics.

DelBene will serve for the next seven weeks as the 1st District successor to Jay Inslee, who quit Congress in March to make his successful run for governor. Then she will join the rest of the members in the new 113th Congress in January to represent the redrawn 1st District, which stretches from Kirkland and Redmond to the Canadian border.

DelBene defeated Republican Snohomish Councilmember John Koster in last week's election.

Speaking shortly after President Obama held a news conference to outline his terms for negotiating with the GOP to resolve the impending "fiscal cliff," DelBene stopped short of embracing her party's emboldened stance after its gains in this month's elections.

She would not say whether she agreed with a threat by Sen. Patty Murray and other Democratic leaders to let all Bush-era tax cuts expire in January if Republicans insist on renewing them even for the highest-income brackets, and then reinstating the cuts only for households earning less than $250,000.

"I think the mandate we heard from voters is, 'Get something done,' " DelBene said, as she took a break from the two-week orientation for all incoming House freshmen at the Capitol. "I think we need a balanced approach."

Asked if reducing Social Security benefits or raising the Medicare eligibility age should be part of the "balanced approach," DelBene said eliminating subsidies to oil companies or raising the cap on wages subject to Social Security taxes should come before any such discussion.

Though a legislative newbie, DelBene talks about issues with the ease of someone who has spent the past few years as a congressional candidate. She made an unsuccessful bid for Republican Rep. Dave Reichert's 8th District seat in 2010.

DelBene joins a chamber where political novices are the exception. Both Democrats Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer, the other two congressmembers-elect from Washington, are veterans of the state Legislature. More than half of at least 80 incoming U.S. House freshmen have held elected office, including nine who are returning to Congress.

DelBene, for her part, brings a deep business-sector résumé. That includes more than a decade at Microsoft, where she was corporate vice president for mobile communications. Her husband, Kurt DelBene, is president of Microsoft's Office division.

DelBene is hoping to parlay her business experience by getting on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Inslee also served.

Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or ksong@seattletimes.com


CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY IMAGES




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