Retirements of Virginia congressmen Wolf and Moran could mean less clout for D.C. area


House Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee chairman Rep. Frank Wolf listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
June 1

With the looming retirements of Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and James P. Moran (D-Va.), Northern Virginia has begun to brace for the loss of its one-two punch in the battle for federal spending.

In some ways, the congressmen couldn’t be more different — one a pugnacious Irish American Democrat who once took a swing at a fellow lawmaker on the House floor, and the other a deeply religious Republican best known for his advocacy of religious freedom and other human rights issues.

But on regional matters, Wolf and Moran have been partners, rising to senior positions on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, where each has used his influence to exert leverage on matters near and far.

As House members voted Friday on the latest massive spending bills, regional leaders praised the exiting lawmakers. Some pondered what the greatest loss of congressional clout in a generation will mean for the region’s federal jobs, contractors and entities ranging from the Metro transit system to its numerous national security installations.

Insiders say the impact of losing a collective 58 years in office could become clear as soon as next year, when the FBI is scheduled to choose a new home in the suburbs. Some Virginians say the departure of Wolf, the top Republican overseeing funding for the Justice and Commerce departments, and Moran, the top Democrat over interior and environmental spending and a member of the House defense funding panel, could flip the advantage to Maryland in the fight for 11,000 jobs.


Twelve-term Rep. Jim Moran calls colleagues from his Capitol Hill office the morning of the leak of his decision not to seek re-election for Congress. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

“Virginia loses its pressure points in terms of locations of federal agencies and allocations of federal dollars,” said former congressman Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican from Fairfax County. “Wolf and Moran were both in positions to make sure the region got a fair shake. At this point, we may be speechless, we may be a bit powerless on some of these issues.”

The region retains several strong voices. The Maryland suburbs boast several influential Democrats, including Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen. And Virginia’s delegation includes House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) of Richmond, among others.

But in an increasingly Democratic region, Wolf’s status as a Republican in a GOP-controlled chamber gave the area an advantage.

“We have some very strong advocates for the region, but in an increasingly one-party region, you need to have a presence in both parties for maximum effectiveness,” Davis said.

The experience of Virginia’s Hampton Roads, home of the Navy’s Atlantic fleet, may be a warning. Defense spending supports about 40 percent of southeastern Virginia's economy, which survived a round of base closures in the late 1990s.

But after the region lost three House members of the Armed Services Committee with nearly five decades of seniority, the number of military personnel stationed in the area fell 15 percent between 2003 and 2011, dropping below 100,000 for the first time in decades, a regional planning commission reported last October.

Northern Virginia added jobs in the latest base-closing round over that period. It more than made up for 22,000 jobs shifted out of Arlington County, Alexandria and Baileys Crossroads with growth at Marine Corps Base Quantico, the Mark Center in Alexandria and at Fort Belvoir.

As Congress potentially weighs an additional round of closures this decade, the future is less certain. The stakes will be high, as some Northern Virginia leaders hope the Route 1 corridor between Alexandria and Fort Belvoir will eventually rival Tysons Corner.

Elsewhere, Regina Sullivan, chief of government affairs for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs Metro, noted that since 2009, congressional appropriators have approved $150 million a year for the transit system, putting it midway through a $1.5 billion commitment to pay for safety and capital improvements.

“It’s going to be more difficult. . . . Clearly, on House Appropriations, it’s a significant loss for us,” said Sullivan, adding that Wolf previously headed the House Transportation Committee. “They both have really been our champions and done a tremendous job, and Mr. Wolf has been a real leader.”

Elected in 1980 from what is now a swing district that stretches west from McLean’s affluent GOP suburbs to the West Virginia border, Wolf led the transfer of what was then National Airport and Dulles International Airport from federal control to a local authority in 1986, setting off decades of growth.

In 1991, Wolf stopped a bid by Sen. Robert W. Byrd (D-W.Va.) to move the CIA to his state, leading Byrd into name-calling that targeted his critics from Northern Virginia.

Together with then-Sen. John W. Warner (R) and Davis, Moran and Wolf secured $1.5 billion in federal aid to replace the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, including a $600 million earmark in October 2000. Wolf helped pump $200 million directly and an additional $1.9 billion in federal loans to the $5.6 billion, 23.1-mile Silver Line rail project to Dulles.

Such efforts initially gave Wolf a “Congressman Pothole” reputation, but he leaves Congress best known for his faith-driven leadership on humanitarian causes from Ethi­o­pia to China to Sudan. He is also well known for his stands against drunken driving, gambling, prison rape and human trafficking. He helped create the Iraq Study Group in 2006, which shaped the nation’s military withdrawal.

“Frank Wolf is a principled, courageous, tenacious advocate for human rights in every corner of the earth,” Hoyer said on the House floor late Thursday, after colleagues gave Wolf a standing ovation and before they voted 321 to 87 for a $52 billion spending bill, the last of 11 that he has authored as subcommittee chairman.

In an interview a few hours after the 1:15 a.m. Friday vote, a weary Wolf reflected on his accomplishments and said he would advise his successor: “Treat people the way that you want to be treated. You’ve just got to do unto others as you want them to treat you.”

Moran since 1991 has represented Alexandria and parts of Arlington and Fairfax. Although a string of controversial encounters and ethical stumbles dating to his tenure as Alexandria mayor threatened to become as memorable as his legislative deeds, Moran’s fiery style and partisan edge for many years won him sizable majorities in his deeply Democratic district.

That began to change after 2003, when Moran apologized for saying the nation invaded Iraq because of the influence of the American Jewish community. But he continued to criticize the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in terms that several Jewish groups said invoked anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Along with his work on the Wilson Bridge, Moran and Davis led the effort to close the Lorton Correctional Complex in 2001 and to bring the Patent and Trademark Office to Alexandria.

Moran helped win $200 million to widen the corridor and add exit ramps off Interstate 395 for the Mark Center. He also pushed the Army, because of traffic concerns, to downsize its original plans to send 6,400 workers to that location.

The House will take up his subcommittee’s bill later this year, and most recently Moran contented himself with winning passage of a House amendment to ban the practice of horse slaughter for human consumption.

But he said his proudest moment on the spending committee was in 2011 when he led a Democratic effort to stop the newly elected GOP majority from weakening environmental protections.

“While we may have lost some of the votes, I think we won the debate in the public’s perception,” Moran said.

Spencer S. Hsu is an investigative reporter, two-time Pulitzer finalist and national Emmy award nominee.
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