D.C.’s Neighbor States Flex Outsized Clout in Congress

Posted May 6, 2013 at 11:55am

The 13th biennial Roll Call Clout Index will be scrutinized by congressional staff from all 50 states, all of them eager to see how their bosses’ delegations stack up against the rest. But because a vast majority of Hill aides live in the Washington metro area, you can bet they’ll also be looking at how much potential the states of Maryland and Virginia have in the new Congress.

As you can see in this interactive graphic detailing the results of our study, both states that surround the capital held on to spots in the top 10 — impressive by the objective measure that Virginia is 12th in population and Maryland is 19th. (Obvious spoiler alert: The District of Columbia won’t be found in our study. Not having anything close to full-fledged representation in either the House or Senate essentially negates whatever persuasive powers and committee seniority Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton brings to the table.)

Both Maryland and Virginia have seen their potential delegation influence slip a bit since the last Clout Index.  Virginia, which peaked at No. 5 two years ago, has dropped back one notch. Maryland, which wasn’t in the top ranks a decade ago, came in 9th this time after finishing two spots higher in 2011, but it remains the second-smallest state (after Louisiana) in the top tier.

The formula for gauging each state’s built-in sway in Congress combines federal spending per capita in the state, delegation size, House and Senate seniority, membership in the majority caucuses, spots in senior leadership, committee chairmanships and ranking posts, and assignments to the most influential committees. The aggregate score suggests how likely it will be that one state’s members do better than another’s to get parochial priorities achieved in Congress.

Virginia saw $15,800 spent by the federal government for every person in the state in fiscal 2011, the most recent per capita spending figures available from the Census Bureau. Only four states did better, a reflection of the significant amount of government contracting dollars that get spent in the D.C. suburbs as well as the enormous amount of military spending done at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

The state’s clout is also intensified by having Richmond’s Eric Cantor as House majority leader, by having Roanoke’s Robert W. Goodlatte as House Judiciary Chairman and by having two House members, Republican Frank R. Wolf and Democrat James P. Moran, in top seats on Appropriations subcommittees. Where the state’s clout suffers is on the other side of the Capitol; although both get points for being majority Democrats, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine combine for the third-shortest seniority of any Senate delegation, and neither first-termer has secured a spot on one of the most exclusive committees.

Maryland’s federal spending per capita was 10th highest among all the states at $12,000. The number reflects the state’s distinction as home to a large collection of federal agency offices and a decent number of contractors. But it’s still a plummet from its fourth-best per capita showing two years ago, albeit under a slightly different formula. If the state wins the regional competition to become the new home of the FBI, spending in the state is sure to soar to the top ranks later in the decade.

In contrast to Virginia, Maryland’s Senate delegation is second from the top, in part because both Democrats did decent stints in the House before crossing to the north side of the Capitol. Fifth-termer Barbara A. Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in congressional history, has also claimed the chairmanship of Appropriations this year, while second-termer Benjamin L. Cardin has a seat on Finance.

The House delegation loses points for having only one of its eight members in the majority party, but it has gained a point with Republican Andy Harris’ new assignment to Appropriations. And its clout is boosted significantly, of course, by having Steny H. Hoyer as the minority whip and three Democrats in ranking-member seats on committees: Chris Van Hollen at Budget, Elijah E. Cummings at Government Reform and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger at Intelligence.

The D.C. area’s congressional clout was the topic of my last appearance on WAMU, the local NPR affiliate. You can read about it here and listen to it here.