WASHINGTON – During the first half of the 100-day race to make good on the GOP’s Contract with America, three of Maryland’s four Republican House members voted for every provision backed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The only opposing Maryland GOP votes were cast by Rep. Constance Morella of Montgomery County.
“It just shows that I continue to be independent and thoughtful,” Morella said, laughing lightly.
Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, vowed the House would pass 10 key concerns outlined in the contract during the first 100 days of this session. Wednesday marks the 50th day of the count.
The House has approved a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution and a bill giving the president power to veto line items in the federal budget.
It also passed a six-part crime-fighting package; a number of measures changing House rules and forcing Congress to comply with federal laws; a bill restricting unfunded mandates to state and local governments, and a measure limiting U.S. participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions.
The Senate has not yet acted on most of the measures.
Republican Reps. Roscoe Bartlett of Western Maryland, Wayne Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore and Robert Ehrlich of Baltimore County voted for all these measures.
Morella diverged from the Republican majority on a few issues.
She voiced opposition to a balanced-budget amendment requiring a three-fifths majority vote of Congress to raise taxes, but missed the House vote. She later voted for a compromise that removed the three-fifths requirement.
She also opposed both an increase in prison construction funding and a program that would lump federal funding of local police into grants. But she supported the other anti-crime measures in the contract, including legislation to limit death penalty appeals.
Morella was also one of only four Republicans in the House who voted Thursday against the national security bill limiting U.S. participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions.
The contract provisions, and Maryland votes to date, are:
* A number of rule changes for the House, ranging from limits on how long the House speaker and committee chairmen can hold those jobs to cuts in committee sizes and staffs.
The four Maryland Republicans supported these changes. “I think it’s a breath of fresh air to have no proxy voting,” Morella said of one of the changes, requiring members of House committees to be in attendance to vote.
Under the same contract category, the four also voted for a bill on congressional accountability, requiring Congress to follow the same laws it imposes on others. The legislation passed the Senate and has been signed into law by President Clinton.
* A bill restricting unfunded federal mandates. The legislation would require Congress to consider the cost imposed on state and local governments by some federal regulations.
It received uniform support from the four Republicans.
“I came from [the] state legislature. I know what the feds do to states,” said Ehrlich, a former state delegate. “Passing a bill without money to support it is an irresponsible way to govern.”
* A compromise measure forcing the federal government, by fiscal year 2002, to spend no more money than it raises in revenues each year. A simple majority vote could waive the requirement in times of war or serious military threat.
All four Maryland Republicans voted for this version.
“I think it’s unfortunate it had to come to this,” Ehrlich said. “I wish I knew future Congresses would be as fiscally conservative as this one.”
Under the same contract category, the four also supported the line-item veto proposal.
Morella said it would help get rid of unnecessary spending. “I think it’s pretty spectacular that we’ve given the president this ability to take specific items out of the budget,” she said.
* Several anti-crime bills, including those calling for victim restitution, more funds for prison construction, block- grant money for hiring police officers and limits on death penalty appeals.
Bartlett, Ehrlich and Gilchrest supported all the bills, while Morella opposed two. She said the increased prison construction funds should be used to put police officers on the street and prevent crime.
“More prisons are not the answer,” Morella said. “The only thing these jails are going to help is long-term care.”
* The national security measure, limiting U.S. involvement abroad, which only Morella opposed.
Remaining contract provisions include measures calling for term limits for members; reforming welfare, and cutting the capital gains tax, assessed when assets such as stocks and bonds are sold.
The provisions also would provide tax credits for adoption and elder care and stronger laws against child pornography; raise the earning income limits for people who receive Social Security benefits and lower the tax rate on Social Security income, and give tax cuts to the middle class.
The contract also includes legal reforms. One would make a “loser pays” rule, requiring a losing plaintiff to pay damages to the party sued. Another would limit punitive damages in product liability and medical malpractice lawsuits.
“We’ve got to do something to stop all of these lawsuits,” Bartlett said.
But Ehrlich said he doesn’t agree with the loser-pays reform. “We believe in equal access to the courts, regardless of economic class,” he said. “This law would work against the poor and keep them out of court.”
Capital News Service reporters Natalie Pompilio, Roger Smith and Ed Walls contributed to this story.