Wyden and Issa

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) couldn’t be more different.

Wyden used to be the co-director of the Oregon chapter of the Gray Panthers, a liberal group. Issa is a conservative bomb-thrower who has nearly the exact opposite voting record of the senior senator from Oregon.

But they have both found their place in the Congress.

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Wyden is not a committee chairman, but his party is calling the shots in Washington. And Wyden is elbowing his way into the delicate discussions on healthcare reform.

Issa has longed to be a governor or a senator. But now, as the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Issa is content.

In an interview with The Hill, Issa said he enjoys his job in the minority as a ranking member more than he did in the majority as a rank-and-file member.

No ranking member in the House has a larger budget than Issa, who has the challenging task of investigating a popular president’s administration. That hasn’t stopped Issa from asking many oversight questions of a variety of government agencies.

Issa, a successful businessman, also gives straight answers. Asked whether he works closely with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Issa responded, “The correct answer is very closely. The reality is not that closely. … Most of the time it’s my staff and my people and we’re mostly on our own.”

Boehner trusts Issa, who ranked 11th in seniority on the GOP side of the aisle in the committee last Congress. In order to make that kind of a leap to the top of the panel, lawmakers need leadership approval, which Issa had.

Wyden, meanwhile, will be seeking his fourth term next year and is a heavy favorite to win reelection. In a state that Obama won by 16 percentage points in November, Wyden arguably has to worry more about a primary than a general election.

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That hasn’t prevented Wyden from proposing a healthcare reform alternative that is very different from what Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) will propose. And Wyden has convinced some Republicans to jump on board.

Wyden recently told The Hill: “The history of bringing about enduring change, change that is going to last, change that people are going to rally behind — that history is predicated on bringing people together. There’s a real path of getting an upwards of 70 votes for historic health reform, where the country can say, after all these years of bickering and fighting and polarizing, contentious debate, people really came together.”

Issa’s focus is not bringing people together, but he and Wyden have something in common: They’ve settled into their respective roles on Capitol Hill.