Much of Maryland's influence in House and Senate undone by GOP gains ELECTION 1994

November 10, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher and John B. O'Donnell | Michael A. Fletcher and John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Republican wave that washed over Congress spared Maryland's Democratic incumbents, but it robbed the state of much of its clout on Capitol Hill.

The billions of dollars in federal funds that have flowed into Maryland in recent years may dwindle with the loss of Democratic control of Congress, which cost the state key leadership posts that have been used to snag much of that money.

The Republican takeover deprived Maryland of a major chairmanship in the Senate.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Baltimore Democrat, was in line to head the Banking Committee, which holds broad sway over housing and transportation programs, in addition to its jurisdiction over banking and securities matters.

Also losing chairmanships of important appropriation subcommittees -- which allocate billions of dollars for specific projects -- are Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer.

In recent years, Senators Mikulski and Sarbanes -- along with Mr. Hoyer in the House -- have played key roles in acquiring federal xTC funds. They include $45 million for the Christopher Columbus Center, nearing completion at Baltimore's Inner Harbor; close to $150 million for the MARC commuter rail line and Baltimore's light rail line; $22 million a year for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup; and $32 million for beach replenishment at Ocean City.

"This election will have an extremely negative effect on Maryland," said former Rep. Michael Barnes, a Montgomery County Democrat.

"We have built up substantial power in the Congress and were poised to have a very influential committee chairman in the Senate, but all of that has been undone by these elections."

Maryland Democrats tried to put the best face on the loss, pointing out that the state's congressional delegation has a tradition of bipartisan cooperation.

They also said they would be able to produce for the state, in no small part because they are dealing with a Democratic administration.

"Granted, it is easier to produce as a committee chair," Mr. Sarbanes said. "But we still have a Democratic administration. A lot of what has accrued to us has been established by decisions made downtown as much as those made up on the Hill."

Still, Maryland's loss of power is real and made more acute

because the state's four congressional Republicans, who are now the majority party, have less seniority than their Democratic counterparts.

As a result, they are in line for few leadership posts now that their party will set the legislative agenda.

"There is no doubt that the chairman of a committee or subcommittee has more power," said Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican who is the only member of the state's congressional delegation positioned to chair a subcommittee in the next Congress.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, who was just elected to a third term, is angling for chairmanship of the merchant marine fisheries subcommittee, a post important to his Eastern Shore district.

The absence of Marylanders from key chairmanships means more than a loss of prestige: It could result in fewer federal dollars to the state.

This year, Maryland is slated to receive $2 billion in federal grants, said Kenneth E. Mannella, the governor's Capitol Hill lobbyist.

Richard Munson, who wrote a book about the $81 billion appropriations bill that Ms. Mikulski handled in 1991, cited her efforts on behalf of the Columbus Center as a "blatant" example of a Congress member bringing pork home.

"That's the power of the chairman," he said.

While appropriations committees are the most bipartisan on Capitol Hill, he said, the Republican sweep "can only mean a loss for Maryland -- in [Ms. Mikulski's] ability to direct projects to the state.

"She won't . . . be able to work her magic" after loss of the chairmanship, he said. "She's still a key player, but particularly on appropriations, there's no doubt that Maryland will not get the same attention or money."

His remarks were echoed by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Baltimore Democrat who was elected to a fifth term.

"The loss of the two subcommittee chairmanships is very harmful to Maryland -- a major blow to the power and prestige of the state," he said. "And we are not going to make it up with Republicans."

The only Maryland Republican on an appropriations committee is Rep. Helen Delich Bentley of Baltimore County, who gave up her seat to run for governor. Mr. Gilchrest sought to play down the notion that the Republican takeover means a loss of influence for Maryland.

"If you work hard enough and are viewed as a credible member of Congress, you can get your due," he said.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said that he was concerned about the state's loss of congressional power.

"That could have serious implications on our ability to get access for federal funds," he said.

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