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MD. DELEGATION'S CLOUT IN CONGRESS HITS 25-YEAR HIGH Lawmakers assuming leadership jobs, nurturing links with White House

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- With the swearing-in of the 103rd Congress the power of the 10-member Maryland delegation is at its greatest in at least 25 years as members move into leadership posts and cultivate their ties to the Clinton administration.

Eight veteran members of the delegation are expected to have )) greater clout in areas ranging from federal spending and women's issues to economic policy and health care. And the biggest boost for Maryland will be on the committees in the House and Senate that dole out federal spending.

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Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Prince George's Democrat, is slated to become one of 13 subcommittee chairmen on Appropriations, a group whose influence is so great it is called "The College of Cardinals." His Senate counterpart, Barbara A. Mikulski, is already an Appropriations subcommittee chair.

Only one other state -- Iowa -- has members who head both House and Senate appropriations subcommittees.

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"We now have two cardinals in the delegation," boasted one former Capitol Hill staff member. "We have clearly picked up strength."

How the new-found power will help the state in specific areas is still an open question. State officials are in the process of putting together a legislative wish list that Gov. William Donald Schaefer will present to the delegation the first week of March. And much depends on the spending priorities of the Clinton administration. But there are several projects Ms. Mikulski and Mr. Hoyer are ready to push.

Besides securing start-up funds for the new Baltimore Veterans Hospital, Ms. Mikulski hopes to keep the Loch Raven VA hospital open, possibly as a nursing care facility for veterans.

She also will urge her Senate colleagues to set aside money for a demonstration project of a high-speed magnetic levitation train and push for the selection of the Baltimore-Washington corridor as the site for the 300-mph train.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hoyer plans to seek $25 million to $50 million for an airplane test facility at Patuxent Naval Air Test Center in St. Mary's County. Last year, the congressman was able to get $10 million for design and construction of the project.

He also expects to play a key role in securing continued federal funding for Baltimore's proposed $164 million Christopher Columbus Center, a marine research facility, and new funds for improvements to Route 5, a Southern Maryland road that needs an additional lane or rail service to alleviate congestion.

Despite the loss of two well-placed incumbents, Reps. Beverly B. Byron and Tom McMillen, the state's lawmakers are "one of the strongest delegations Maryland has had in the last 30 years," said Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Baltimore County Republican who won a coveted post on the Appropriations Committee.

Former GOP Sen. Charles McC. Mathias agreed that it's been nearly three decades since the state delegation has amassed such clout. "I think you really have to go back to the '60s to get this kind of pattern," he said. "It's a strong team."

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Among those expected to wield expanded power are:

* Mr. Hoyer: The Prince George's lawmaker will undoubtedly have the greatest influence among the delegation. He was re-elected chairman of the Democratic Caucus, making him the fourth-ranking member of the House leadership.

The 53-year-old lawmaker, an early supporter of Mr. Clinton, was the only leadership figure in the House to back a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget last year. The Clinton administration -- particularly his former House colleague and incoming Budget Director Leon Panetta -- will likely see Mr. Hoyer as an ally in pushing a deficit reduction plan.

Higher profile

* Ms. Mikulski: The senator from Baltimore will have a higher profile as the dean of the Senate's four new Democratic women and the first Democratic woman ever to serve in the Senate hierarchy. She was tapped by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell to serve as assistant floor leader, helping to set the agenda and corral votes.

She also has ties to the new administration, recently taking part in a Clinton transition team workshop on national service, one of her pet projects in the Senate.

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* Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes: The three-term senator will rise to the helm of a Banking subcommittee that oversees housing and urban issues, including mass transit. The post will dovetail with Ms. Mikulski's chairmanship of a spending subcommittee with responsibility for housing, a prime concern for cities such as Baltimore.

Mr. Sarbanes said he expects the new administration to increase spending on public housing and also back partnerships between the government and private builders to construct low-income housing.

"They're national in scope, but they'll benefit us in Maryland," Mr. Sarbanes predicted. "We really want to get these housing programs moving again."

The senator will continue to be a force on economic policy with the new administration through his position as vice chairman of the Joint Economic Committee.

* Rep. Kweisi Mfume: The 44-year-old representative, just re-elected to a fourth term, takes over the Congressional Black Caucus. The caucus increases to 40 members from 26 in the last Congress and is expected to be a key power center in the 103rd Congress.

Mr. Mfume will be the national spokesman on a myriad of issues, including a larger federal role in business development and loans for the inner cities, which he and other urban representatives complain were neglected during the GOP's 12 years in the White House.

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Insider committees

* Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin: Another Baltimore lawmaker re-elected to a fourth term, Mr. Cardin moves up in seniority on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and will continue to be a force on the health subcommittee. He will be a "critical player," said one analyst, on health-care reform.

Mr. Cardin also has been selected for spots on two insider committees that will give him greater influence with his colleagues and, as a result, more power in the House: the Democratic Steering and Policy, which selects committee assignments for party members and develops policy positions, and Administration, whose jurisdiction includes the assignment of office space and members' travel and spending.

Although Maryland has increased its power on the Hill, the delegation's influence is still dwarfed by those of larger states, such as Texas and California, whose sheer numbers of representatives combined with those on powerful committees offer greater power.

And Maryland's delegation was hurt by the loss of Mrs. Byron, a Frederick Democrat who served as a subcommittee chairwoman the House Armed Services Committee, and Mr. McMillen, a Crofton Democrat who had a seat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

Loss of Byron, McMillen

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Mrs. Byron lost in the Democratic primary. Mr. McMillen was the victim of a redistricting plan that pitted him against Eastern Shore Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest.

The more severe loss is Mrs. Byron, whose power on the Armed Services Committee was vital for a state ranked fifth in defense-related jobs.

Besides making sure defense bills included local projects, Mrs. Byron's position made Pentagon planners think twice about cutting Maryland defense establishments, political observers said.

With a new round of military base reductions set for next year as well as overall Defense Department cutbacks, state officials and lawmakers are nervous about how the state will fare without an advocate in such an important post.

Still, Hill staffers note that Mr. Hoyer's seat on the Appropriations military construction subcommittee will at least offer the state one link to the defense establishment.

Meanwhile, the defeat of Mr. McMillen will mean the state will not have a voice on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

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"The loss of Tom McMillen on the Energy and Commerce seat hurts us," Mr. Hoyer acknowledged. But he expects that Rep. Albert R. Wynn, another Democrat from Prince George's, will be selected for a future committee vacancy.



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