On the stroke of midnight tonight, thousands of bills will die on Capitol Hill, including dozens of measures penned by Washington state lawmakers. The 108th Congress formally ends...

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WASHINGTON — On the stroke of midnight tonight, thousands of bills will die on Capitol Hill, including dozens of measures penned by Washington state lawmakers.

The 108th Congress formally ends on this, the last day of 2004, and all pending legislation expires.

Each bill must be reintroduced if the sponsor wants to continue the fight in the 109th Congress, which begins in January and lasts two years.

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Getting something passed is a tough game, against long odds.

House and Senate lawmakers introduced 8,466 bills in the 108th Congress. Only 439 — about 5 percent — actually became law.

But success on Capitol Hill isn’t always measured by whether a bill makes it to the president’s desk, said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle. Authoring legislation has its own rewards, he said.

“You want to say to your constituents: ‘This is something I would like to do,’ ” McDermott said. “If you just sit back and say, ‘I don’t have ideas,’ pretty soon people say, ‘Why did we send you up there?’ ”

Wilderness plan fails

The quiet legislative deaths stand in stark contrast to the commotion many of the bills caused when they were alive.

Gone, for example, will be the hard-fought effort to protect 106,000 acres in Snohomish County called the Wild Sky wilderness, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen of Lake Stevens, both Democrats.

The measure would have protected an area of lowland forest near Index. It had bipartisan support among the state’s congressional leaders but stalled in the House Resources Committee.

House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., said the area included bridges and former mines, and was therefore unsuitable for permanent protection as pristine wilderness.

The bill died after Pombo said he was not going to support a compromise measure that failed to garner Larsen’s support. Wild Sky lies entirely within Larsen’s congressional district.

Larsen’s office said his staff was continuing to talk with Pombo’s aides, and they are hopeful Wild Sky will become law in the 109th Congress.

“It’s a worthy effort, and it has all the local support it needs,” said Abbey Blake, spokeswoman for Larsen.

Ideas that flew

The Washington state delegation can boast a handful of accomplishments in the 108th Congress.

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, paired up to pass a bill expanding the boundary of Mount Rainier National Park.

Dunn’s proposal to temporarily extend unemployment compensation became law, although Democrats complained that the 13 weeks of extra aid didn’t help the long-term unemployed.

Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, successfully got 560 acres of parkland in Washington and Oregon redesignated as the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.

The nine House members and two U.S. senators from Washington state had plenty of amendments tacked on to larger bills, including Murray’s successful effort to save Amtrak, the national passenger-rail service.

But for the most part, the delegation dreamed larger than what it accomplished.

Dunn’s bill to permanently repeal the estate tax failed, as did McDermott’s attempt to offer federal recognition to the Duwamish Tribe of Seattle.

Cantwell’s measure to regulate the mail-order bride industry died in committee, and Murray was unable to establish a Select Committee on Aerospace to study Boeing’s battle with the Europeans.

McDermott characterized these legislative letdowns as temporary setbacks.

“This is not a game for greyhounds. It’s a game for bulldogs,” said McDermott, who plans to reintroduce his state-controlled health-care plan for the seventh consecutive time.

“If you think an idea is right, you keep pushing it, and you never know how circumstances may change and suddenly people will say, ‘We got to do something about this.’ ”

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or afryer@seattletimes.com