Poised to bring home the bacon

Frank A. DeFilippo

December 10, 1992|By Frank A. DeFilippo

IN Washington, pork is power. And against a backdrop o public distemper over term limitations and deficit reduction, Maryland's 10-member delegation to Washington may be closer to the butcher counter than at any time since the 1960s.

Back then, Baltimore's three congressmen chaired three major House committees -- George Fallon of Public Works, Edward Garmatz of Merchant Marine and Fisheries and Sam Friedel of Government Operations. They are gone now, but Fallon is a federal office building, Garmatz is a courthouse and poor old Friedel became famous for winning a tax deduction for ground rents.

The names of those on the ascent to positions of power today are Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes in the Senate and Steny H. Hoyer, Benjamin L. Cardin and Kweisi Mfume in the House. There's a Democrat in the White House and two Democrats from Maryland in the Senate. But the state's House delegation was redistributed by the November elections to an even 4-4 split between Democrats and Republicans.

All of the veteran Democrats are advancing smartly in the political pecking order. Ms. Mikulski's returning to the Senate after a blowout win over conservative Republican Alan L. Keyes. She occupies a crucial seat on the Appropriations Committee and is chair of its subcommittee that oversees the activities of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the nation's mass transit programs. Under a Democratic president, this assignment could be vital to Baltimore City.

And Ms. Mikulski, now one of six women in the Senate, is on her way to a Democratic leadership position, possibly as assistant floor leader or at least as deputy whip. This will give her an additional bargaining chip as well as entry into the charmed little circle of the all-male Senate power elite. Mr. Sarbanes is already the third-ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As such, he's chairman of its subcommittee on international economic policy, trade, oceans and the environment. From this arcane subcommittee chairmanship, Mr. Sarbanes is, literally, in charge of writing the foreign aid bill. His work could indirectly benefit global companies with Maryland connections.

Because the chairmanship of the Joint Economic Policy Committee rotates between the House and the Senate, Mr. Sarbanes will be vice chairman of the committee he chaired this year as point man on congressional economic policy. When the new Congress convenes in January, Mr. Sarbanes is scheduled to take over the chairmanship of the subcommittee on banking, housing and urban affairs, giving Baltimore a second Senate major influence on urban policy. This subcommittee, like Ms. Mikulski's deals with funding for housing and mass transit projects.

In the House, Mr. Hoyer, D-4th, is firmly ensconced as a the No. 4 Democrat behind the speaker after a tough campaign but an impressive victory. Mr. Hoyer sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee, where he'll take over as chairman of the armed services subcommittee to accommodate the needs and constituents of his newly redrawn district.

So once again, Maryland will have two seats on the all-powerful money committees, Ms. Mikulski in the Senate and Mr. Hoyer in the House. Mr. Cardin's the golden boy of the House Ways and Means Committee. He's a favorite of Chairman Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois.

Moreover, Mr. Cardin, D-3rd, is the author of the leading national health care bill in the House as well as the line-item veto legislation for the administration of President-elect Bill Clinton. More important, as as result of the recent elections, Mr. Cardin's in position to move up nine notches on the seniority roster in the Way and Means ranks, where revolutionary change is occurring. Nine of 23 Democrats and four of 13 Republicans are departing -- including half the members of the health subcommittee where Mr. Cardin is a key mover and shaker, especially on the issue of national health care. The titillating question now is whether Mr. Cardin will give up his new standing in Congress to run for governor.

Finally, Mr. Mfume, D-7th, was expected last night to be elected chairman of the House Black Caucus, whose membership has swollen to 40 as a result of the recent elections. Mr. Mfume is currently caucus vice chairman in addition to deputy majority whip. There is talk in the house, too, of melding the Black Caucus (40), Women's Caucus (47) and Hispanic Caucus (17) into a single voting bloc on certain social issues. If this occurs, Mr. Mfume would have additional leverage in the House if he wins the caucus chairmanship. Mr. Mfume has been a member of the Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee as well as the Small Business Committee. He's even an honorary member of the women's caucus.

The Mikulski-Sarbanes-Hoyer-Cardin-Mfume assignments taken as a whole are important to Maryland because of its large number of military and defense installations, as well as its huge population of federal workers, nearly 200,000. Then there are the problems of Baltimore's and Prince George's poor. With a president who's sympathetic and the votes where they count, Maryland Democrats in Congress are now primed to deal with those issues in unison for the first time in nearly 30 years. Happy days are here again.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes fortnightly on Maryland politics.

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