WASHINGTON – Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation on Thursday called President Clinton’s eighth and final State of the Union address everything from “irresponsible” to a “very dynamic agenda.”
But the delegation, with six Democrats and four Republicans, gave Clinton generally good marks for the plan he laid out for his final year in office.
During the hour-and-a-half address, the president said the nation was blessed to be in a historic period of peace and economic strength, but that it had an obligation to continue working for “the more perfect union” of the founding fathers.
Toward that end, he proposed paying down the national debt, shoring up Social Security and Medicare, passing a patients bill of rights and implementing a $350 billion tax cut.
“We can do these things without forsaking the fiscal discipline that got us here tonight,” Clinton assured the Congress.
But Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said the speech was more evidence that Clinton is a big-spending Democrat.
The president’s proposals amount to “a recipe for bigger government and [are] precisely the fiscally irresponsible-type policies that generated our $5.6 trillion national debt,” Bartlett said in a statement issued before the speech.
Bartlett’s reaction was not surprising: A recent Congressional Quarterly analysis of House votes showed that Bartlett voted against the president’s agenda 91 percent of the time in 1999, tied with Rep. Van Hilleary, R-Tenn., for anti-Clinton voting.
The House Republican who voted with the administration most frequently in 1999, according to Congressional Quarterly, was Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, who supported Clinton 68 percent of the time.
Morella, who shook the president’s hand as he left the House chamber, had little bad to say about the speech, which she characterized as a very good recounting of the highlights of the last eight years under Clinton.
“It was a sweep of all the issues we (in Congress) are involved in,” said Morella, who said she was particularly pleased that the president named reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act as a priority.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Baltimore, applauded the president’s plans to provide a prescription drug benefit for [Medicare patients] and assistance to family members caring for an elderly relative. Mikulski, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, supports legislation that would create a national program to help caregivers.
“It’s really how do we provide a safety net for our seniors,” Mikulski said in a statement before the speech. “We want to support a tax credit for families who are giving care, who are trying to buy long-term care insurance.”
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, said the president’s wish list included two issues that are important to his constituents, schools and small businesses.
“To enable small business the opportunity to offer their workers pension protection is an essential part of what we need,” Wynn said.
“We need to build more schools and the president’s plan would allow us to do that,” Wynn said. “He also talked about increasing the number of teachers and increasing funds for the Head Start program… I think he’s right on the money.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said there was “a lot to like” in Clinton’s speech. All of the president’s proposals will have an effect in Maryland, particularly increased funding for Head Start, economic development incentives and an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to parents with three or more children.
Hoyer said Clinton’s focus on insurance “is now supported by an overwhelming majority of the American public.”
Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, said the president’s speech fits nicely with Maryland’s initiatives, specifically on education and Social Security. But he did not think the president was overreaching in his proposals.
“It is an ambitious agenda, and it is a reasonable one. It is doable,” Cardin said. — CNS reporters Sandy Alexander, Kent German, Erin Medea, Nicole Morgan and Ananda Shorey contributed to this story.