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Area hoping to cash in on hill

Now, perhaps, the District of Columbia will finally get a token of respect -- its own commemorative coin -- to say nothing of full voting rights in the House and the right to elect a district attorney.
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Now, perhaps, the District of Columbia will finally get a token of respect -- its own commemorative coin -- to say nothing of full voting rights in the House and the right to elect a district attorney.

Under the new Democratic majority in Congress, Maryland stands to wield more clout for funding such programs as cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia's U.S. Sen.-elect James Webb is the toast of the resurgent Democratic Party. But Northern Virginia's congressional Republicans will lose influence, and there are fears of a potential federal budget battle that could hurt the local economy.

Although the full impact on the Washington region of the Democratic takeover remains unclear, many local aspirations have been raised by the change, along with a few concerns.

The highest hopes may be in heavily Democratic Washington, where the perennial push to gain a vote in the House has new life. Although backers are still hoping to get a bill passed next month, they are confident of success with the new Congress next year.

Proponents in the District have long dreamed of additional measures that would grant the city further autonomy from Congress, which still has oversight for city budgets and legislation.

"Voting rights is such an overriding issue, it tends to obscure the dozens of ways the District is treated as a second-class jurisdiction," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Tuesday.

Push for budgetary and legislative independence
In July, for example, she introduced a bill now in committee that would allow city residents to elect a district attorney. The city's chief legal officer is a U.S. attorney named by the president. Norton also wants more budgetary and legislative independence.

Norton has also sought to have the District receive its own commemorative quarter. She proposed the idea almost a decade ago, when the District and the four U.S. territories were left out of the program to produce quarters for each of the 50 states. Her measure has died in the Republican Senate twice since, she said.

The bill is again in committee, and she hopes the District might now get its coin -- "a small symbol of dignity and of inclusion in your own country."

For Maryland, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D) could be elected today as majority leader, one of the most powerful positions in the government.

"When you have the majority leader, you have someone who is in on every discussion that takes place at the highest levels of Congress," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.).

In any case, legislators said other benefits might also flow Maryland's way: additional funds to clean up the bay, reduce air pollution and bolster homeland security.

"With the Democratic takeover of Congress, Maryland is going to be in a very solid position," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), who will chair the state delegation in January when Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) retires.

Homeland security is a paramount concern. "There is a lot of cohesion in the delegation to make sure our area receives its fair share," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), who represents most of Montgomery County. "New York and Washington mysteriously were not eligible for as much funding as they had been in the past."

Mikulski is expected to head two appropriations subcommittees. Cummings probably will become chairman of either a transportation subcommittee or a criminal justice and drug policy subcommittee. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) could lead a subcommittee with jurisdiction over telecommunications and the cable industry.

"This is a huge windfall for Maryland," said incoming Maryland comptroller Peter Franchot (D).

Virginia lawmakers may lose power
In Virginia, some prominent lawmakers stand to lose power. Republican Sen. John W. Warner, for example, will relinquish his chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"Not having Warner at Armed Services hurts, but he's still very respected, and I think he will still be effective," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) of Fairfax.

And Davis said he is reconciled to losing the chairmanship of the House Committee on Government Reform. That panel lacks the power of Ways and Means or Appropriations, but it is of special importance to federal workers, among others.

"I don't think it changes things. It only gives me more time," he said.

Any loss of an advocacy for Virginia interests could be offset by Webb's victory over Sen. George Allen (R-Va).

Democrats have criticized Allen during his six years in the Senate for lackluster interest in regional priorities.

As Virginia's longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) of Fairfax County has perhaps the most to lose in the regional delegation: 12 years of majority rule and chairmanship of an influential House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Departments of State, Justice and Commerce.

Wolf, 67, laments the losses. "They got caught up in this tsunami that was off the coast that was coming in."

The economic fallout from the Democratic takeover is uncertain, experts said.

Stephen S. Fuller, a regional economist at George Mason University, noted that the last time Congress changed hands, in 1994, was also the last time there was no increase in local federal procurement spending.

The federal budget impasse that followed the Republican takeover "basically stopped federal procurement contracting in the region for six months," Fuller said Monday. "It affected tourism. They closed down the Washington Monument. They didn't have money to do things."

"I bring that up as an illustration of what is possible," he said. "I think there are going to be some budget battles as priorities are adjusted. The Democrats clearly are going to want to shift some money from one bucket to another. . . .

"It's going to have to come from somewhere, and if it gets to vetoing spending bills or arguing about appropriations, it has a consequence here."