WASHINGTON Eastern Shore Rep. Wayne Gilchrest said President Clinton’s State of the Union address Tuesday laid out a “dozen of legislative proposals” that were short on details.
Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, would not single out areas of the speech for specific praise or criticism, calling it a “serious message from the president of the United States that we should use as a frame of reference for this session of Congress.”
But as he sat through the speech, with his legs crossed and hands folded in his lap, Gilchrest’s face went from stern to almost sour as the 77-minute address wore on. He rarely joined the scattered Republicans who stood with the president’s Democratic boosters for standing ovations during the speech.
“I’m not a cheerleader/pep rally type of person,” Gilchrest said of Congress’ response to the speech.
“It’s pathetic to use a pep-rally type speech to manipulate the political process,” he said. “I was dead-pan, objective, listened …. Don’t bang that flashing cymbal so much — I just want the facts.”
Gilchrest said he did not consider joining a small Republican boycott of the speech, coming as it did during a Senate impeachment trial of the president. He cited his responsibility to be in the House for the speech and said his opinion of the president’s appearance at an awkward time is “an opinion best expressed in private.”
Gilchrest refused to pick out extreme positive or negative elements of the speech, which outlined plans for health, education, open space planning and agriculture, among others.
“There is no high-low. We will evaluate and prioritize,” the president’s proposals, Gilchrest said.
He said he supported Clinton’s call to “bring prosperity back to the family farm.” But Gilchrest said lawmakers need to be careful that any help they approve winds up benefiting small farmers and not solely in the hands of large agricultural businesses like Tyson foods and Perdue.
“Agri-business is the reason the family farms are in decline, we need a tough structure to keep the family farm in business,” Gilchrest said.
He said small farms need tax credits and an elimination of estate taxes if they are to flourish — two items the president did not mention in his speech.
Gilchrest criticized what he called the short-sightedness of Clinton’s proposals to build schools and improve educational systems nationwide.
“The injection of cash gives a good boost, but what happens to those counties or school systems that can’t keep that level of expense up?” he asked of the president’s plans. “How do you expect to fund that injection of cash from now to the end of time?
“I think the cash infusion is fine, but let the local counties use it as they see fit,” he said.
Despite his misgivings about the president’s proposals, Gilchrest said Congress is “ready to get to work.”