By Jeannine anderson
WASHINGTON – Rep. Wayne Gilchrest said President Clinton alienated many in the GOP within the first few minutes of his State of the Union speech when he said a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget might hurt those who depend on Social Security checks.
In his speech, delivered Tuesday night, the president said balancing the budget “requires only your vote and my signature. It does not require us to rewrite our Constitution.”
That drew applause from the Democrats.
But there were boos from the GOP when Clinton added that he thinks it is “unnecessary and unwise to adopt a balanced budget amendment that could cripple our country in a time of economic crisis and force unwanted results, such as judges halting Social Security checks or increasing taxes.”
Gilchrest, a Kennedyville Republican, said, “Many of us were quite thoroughly disgusted.”
Social Security “is a payroll tax,” Gilchrest said. “All of the money that goes into Social Security is completely separate” from the money used to run the government.
Clinton “got off on the wrong foot” by linking the two, he said.
However, Tom Margenau, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration, said the funding question is not that clear-cut. Money to fund Social Security does come out of payroll taxes, he said. But despite a federal law that says Social Security funds should be kept separate, the money does get mingled with other government funds, Margenau said.
Gilchrest said he and other Republicans agree with many of the themes that Clinton mentioned in his hour-long speech.
“We want to improve the quality of education, reduce violent crime, reform health care, create job opportunities” and deal intelligently with environmental problems, Gilchrest said.
The Eastern Shore congressman also said that a campaign finance reform bill introduced by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., which Clinton applauded in his speech, “is a good first step.”
The bill would reduce the role of special interests and ban the use of mass mailings by incumbents during election years. The bill also would establish voluntary spending limits for candidates, limit contributions from noncitizens living in the United States and restrict soft money – the unregulated donations to political parties that are funneled into party-building activities.
Maryland’s two Democratic senators, Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, saw more to like in Clinton’s speech.
“I strongly agree” with everything the president talked about, said Sarbanes, of Baltimore. “And he talked about everything.”
Mikulski, also of Baltimore, said she particularly liked the president’s initiatives in education, which Clinton deemed his “No. 1 priority.”
Clinton called for two years of a $1,500 tax credit to pay for college tuition, a tax deduction of $10,000 a year for all education above the high school level, and expansion of the federal Pell Grant scholarship program for lower-income students.
The president “rightly emphasized that we should help people who practice self-help,” Mikulski said. “For families, that means offering a quality public education for young children and helping with college tuition costs for [older] students.”
She said she favors the president’s call for higher national standards, including testing every fourth grader in reading and every eighth grader in math by 1999.
Sarbanes, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, said the president made room in his balanced budget plan for all his education initiatives. The initiatives “don’t involve a lot of money; they involve a lot of will,” he said.
CNS reporters Mike Householder, Karen Masterson and Mike Eacobacci contributed to this report. -30-