Securing funds for the 17th District will be especially tough this year because of mounting budget deficits.
By DAVID ENRICH
STATES NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tim Ryan has an ambitious agenda for his first term in Congress: saving the steel industry.
He also wants to revitalize downtown Youngstown.
"Basically what I want to do is create a high-tech, 21st-century environment that also focuses on quality of life," Ryan, a Niles Democrat, said last week in his Capitol Hill office.
That is a lofty goal for any lawmaker, not to mention a freshman Democrat whose party is out of power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
But one month into his congressional career, Ryan said he is on track to meet his objective.
"We're following through with exactly what we said we would do," the 29-year-old congressman said, noting his recent assignment to the House Education and Workforce and Small Business committees.
The assignments must have been at least a little disappointing -- Ryan had been saying since his election that he was determined to nab a coveted seat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Nonetheless, both committee seats will help him "achieve those objectives that were set out," Ryan said.
Coming down to earth
Realistically, though, Ryan and his constituents probably will have to be patient, especially when it comes to the federal funding that Ryan said he is seeking for Youngstown State University and urban revitalization.
Experts who have been watching Congress since Ryan was a toddler say lawmakers rarely can secure much federal largesse for their districts in their first years on Capitol Hill.
"If he thinks he can single-handedly steer new resources [to his district], it seems unlikely," said Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. "This may be a longer-term effort to call attention to a depressed area."
"It is perfectly appropriate to set ambitious goals, but realistically it is going to be hard for any member," said Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Ryan acknowledged that it will be tough for a fledgling lawmaker to bring home much money or play a key legislative role.
"I'm not the ranking member on Appropriations [a key House spending committee] or the speaker of the House. But I have a microphone, I have a staff, I have issues that I'm concerned about. And if I have an opportunity to articulate them to the committee, I'm going to do it. Where it goes from there, who knows?"
Securing funds for the 17th District will be especially tough this year because of mounting budget deficits and President Bush's 2004 budget proposal, which would cut funding for economic empowerment zones and other economic development initiatives, said Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland of Lisbon, D-6th.
"It's increasing the difficulty of securing resources for our very legitimate and needed projects in our home districts," Strickland said. "I don't think that just applies to Tim Ryan, though. I think that applies to every member."
Ryan and outside experts agree that his success should be measured not only by the federal funding and projects that he brings back to the district, but also by his work within the district.
That is where Ryan promises to excel. He said he plans to talk with city, county and state officials, as well as the presidents of Youngstown State and Kent State universities, to find ways to collaborate on urban revitalization projects. One promising example, Ryan said, is business incubator programs that are designed to help start-up businesses get off the ground.
How he sees his job
"Beginning to get people sitting down together at the same table and figuring out which areas we want to go in, I think is going to be my role as congressman," Ryan said. Sitting on committees with jurisdiction over education, job training and business issues will keep him abreast of legislation that affects the 17th District, he said.
Among Democrats on Capitol Hill, Ryan could have one big advantage: He is not Jim Traficant, the ex-congressman who frequently bucked Democratic leaders until he was expelled from Congress last year.
According to Ornstein, Ryan will start out with Democrats' being very willing to listen to him because they're just so thrilled he replaced Traficant.