WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Rep. Ron Kind's constituents might have to pay closer attention now to track his progress on Capitol Hill.

But if the Democrat accomplishes some of his goals for the new Congress, results could be seen far beyond his western Wisconsin district.

Last November's election results put the Third District congressman's party in control of the 110th Congress, and Kind secured a spot on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

Because the committee handles tax issues and entitlement programs such as Social Security, Kind may not be as well positioned to funnel federal dollars toward local projects in his district.

However, his committee assignment might have broader implications.

"The assumption I would have is that he's going to be able to help out the state of Wisconsin in a more direct way," said Joe Heim, a UW-La Crosse political science professor.

Kind plans to use his seat on a Ways and Means health subcommittee to push for higher Medicare reimbursement rates to rural hospitals. He described the existing system as having caused a "geographic disparity" that shortchanges some doctors and hospitals, particularly in rural areas.

"I'm going to hopefully bring another voice (for) fairness," said Kind, sitting in his Capitol Hill office recently during a break in House floor activity.

The challenge facing Kind is that many voters don't understand the complexities of federal budgeting and programs such as Medicare, Heim said. Therefore, changes in reimbursement formulas can go largely unnoticed even though they might benefit many constituents.

"It's not something you're going to get a headline for," Heim said of changing reimbursement formulas.

There are other issues Kind is monitoring for the first time a member of the House majority.

Congress likely will write new federal farm legislation to replace policies that expire in September. Kind said the next farm bill should expand land conservation programs because they benefit farmers and the environment.

New agriculture legislation must also place greater emphasis on renewable energy, he said. That stands a good chance of happening because it has the strong backing of many in Congress, including Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who as Agriculture Committee chairman must sign off on the bill in the House.

Kind said he wants to see progress on the St. Croix River bridge project. His district includes St. Croix County, where the new bridge would connect Wisconsin to Minnesota.

"It's still within the priority listing, but we don't want it to slip off," Kind said of the bridge's ranking among other transportation projects.

State officials don't expect a sudden influx of federal money toward the project, which could cost $484 million if done in 2010. Instead, they are starting to draft the final bridge design.

"If funding does come available, we certainly want to be ready to proceed with the project," said Terry Pederson, a planning projects engineer with Wisconsin Department of Transportation's northwest region office in Eau Claire.

Meanwhile, debate over the Iraq war has consumed Washington as the new Congress gets under way. Kind and Democrats could try to influence the direction of the war when President Bush soon submits a supplemental funding request for an estimated $100 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Certainly what we're going to be doing is stepping up oversight," said Kind, who's been to Iraq three times and opposes U.S. troop increases. "We're going to have more hearings, tougher questions, demanding answers from the administration, from top to bottom."

Contact Scott Wente at swente@forumcomm.com.