Md. Gop's Clout Recedes In Congress

ON THE POLITICAL SCENE

November 26, 1994|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- In the old -- Democratic -- world order, Maryland was well-represented in the power structure on Capitol Hill: Its senators and House members chaired subcommittees, were part of the leadership of Congress, and had clout and seniority enough to bring home a healthy fistful of federal dollars.

But all that has changed.

As the Republicans start dealing the cards, Maryland finds itself without any real power players at the table.

Its four Republican representatives -- incumbents Constance A. Morella, Wayne T. Gilchrest, Roscoe G. Bartlett and freshman Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. -- are short on seniority and, in most cases, members of committees that are likely to be dismantled or abolished.

Perhaps most importantly, they are largely viewed by the new Republican congressional leaders as independent operators or moderates who are outside the conservative mainstream of the party.

"Maryland may be receding from the Republican national consciousness for a while," says political analyst Melissa Line.

Ms. Morella, the four-term congresswoman, is the most senior, most visible and most influential of the Maryland Republicans. She will rank 69th in seniority among the 230 Republicans in the House next year.

But the representative from Montgomery County has always been a liberal-to-moderate Republican who often sides with Democrats, especially on social issues. In 1993, she was the only House Republican who voted with the Democrats more often than with her own party, a fact not likely to be lost on the emerging Republican leadership.

Although she signed onto the GOP's "Contract with America," she says she does not support all of its tenets. She declines to say which ones.

In the conservative-trending House, it is unlikely Ms. Morella will emerge as part of the power structure, especially if, as expected, Newt Gingrich as speaker makes ideology a litmus test for committee assignments and leadership positions.

"She'll be as significant as she has ever been," says Ms. Line, "and probably no more so."

For her part, Ms. Morella is realistic about what she calls the "challenge" of being a moderate swimming against a conservative tide.

"My role is to be a bridge between both parties," says the congresswoman, who fits the liberal Republican tradition of former Maryland Sen. Charles McC. Mathias. "Moderate Republicans are going to be exceedingly important as that bridge."

They also may be important as swing voters. In fact, if Maryland's iconoclastic Republicans are too ideologically undependable to be the GOP's front-line soldiers, they could have some clout, collectively, as moderate Republicans who will need to be wooed.

"The real significance of our four Republicans is not their power ,, within committees or the leadership, but with their votes," says John Moag, a lobbyist and former aide to Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer. "There are going to be a lot of close votes in the House. When it boils down to issues, like welfare reform, the Republicans are going to be putting up some tough medicine. They've got to worry about the moderates in the party. That's where their [the moderates'] power is going to be."

Indeed, Ms. Morella says that with her interest in issues affecting women and children, "I can show the Republican Party how to have some compassion," especially when it comes to such controversial topics as welfare reform.

She says she also plans to be a "strong voice" for federal employees and retirees, thousands of whom live in her district.

Currently, Ms. Morella is the senior Republican on a House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee that oversees pay levels for federal employees, and also is on the Science, Space and Technology subcommittee.

Ordinarily, with a switch of parties, Ms. Morella would ascend to the chairmanship of one or both of those subcommittees. But as Republicans revamp the committee structure -- trying to shape the House around issues they hope to focus on, and get rid of committees created over the last 40 years to serve largely Democratic interests -- the Post Office committee is likely to be abolished and the Science committee blended with parts of a dismantled Energy and Commerce Committee. So chairmanships for Ms. Morella are uncertain at best.

Likewise, Mr. Gilchrest, a two-term congressman from the Eastern Shore, has been a member of a committee that is likely to be dismantled -- the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. He says he will press his colleagues to retain the environmental aspects of committees as they are restructured. And for his part, he hopes to land on a reconfigured Environment and Natural Resources committee that would likely inherit some of the responsibilities of the old Merchant Marine committee.

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