WASHINGTON – Maryland’s congressional delegation split straight down party lines Wednesday in the vote on President Bush’s fiscal 2002 budget, which passed the House by a 222-205 vote.
All four Maryland Democrats voted against the bill and all four Republicans voted for it, although at least two of the Republicans earlier threw their support behind changes to the bill before settling for the administration version.
The president’s plan, which calls for tax cuts totaling $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years, was attacked by Democrats who likened it to President Reagan’s tax cut in 1981 that they said lead the country into deficits.
“I believe the president’s tax cut is like Ronald Reagan’s — a riverboat gamble,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville. “He’s projecting revenues we don’t know that we’re going to have.”
Rep. Al Wynn, D-Largo, agreed that the Republican bill was not “fiscally sound.”
“The Republican bill is bloated with a tax cut for the rich and it does not nearly pay down as much of the national debt,” Wynn said.
All four of Maryland’s Democrats voted for a “fiscally responsible” Democratic alternative, that they said would not put “the economy, Social Security and Medicare” at risk, the way the Republican bill does. The Democratic plan would have returned $900 billion in tax cuts and set aside the rest of the money for new spending initiatives and for paying down the debt.
Despite Bush’s steeper tax cut, Republicans said his budget will still be able to pay down the national debt by $2.3 trillion over 10 years and reserve $153 billion over that period for Medicare choice, to reduce regulations and to provide a prescription drug benefit.
Republicans noted that Bush’s plan calls for 4 percent growth. That amount is “fiscally sound and it adheres to the principals of debt retirement, sustainable growth and tax relief,” said Henry Fawell, an aide to Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., R-Timonium, who voted for the bill.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said it was “thrilling to be able to support the commitment by President Bush to hold the line on federal spending and provide badly needed tax relief.”
Bartlett said in a prepared statement that he has concerns about Bush’s plans concerning defense and energy, but that he looks forward to “ironing out those details,” during budget negotiations.
While the Democratic alternative failed by 60 votes Wednesday, the “Blue Dog” alternative only failed by 17, with all four Maryland Democrats and Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, voting for it.
Morella said she liked the Blue Dog proposal because “it has a smaller tax cut” than the president’s and because it addressed two issues she cares about — protecting pay parity for federal workers and preventing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Ultimately, she voted for the president’s budget, which her spokesman noted includes National Institutes of Health funding that is “critically important for the people in her county.”
Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, who opposed all the alternative plans, said he came close to voting for the Blue Dog proposal, “But to be quite honest I don’t think it would’ve passed.”
Gilchrest said he believes the Blue Dogs intentionally constructed an alternative that they knew would not pass, but would give them a chance to make a political statement by registering mild disagreement with the president’s plan.
He said he voted for the president’s budget largely because it was more realistic than the Blue Dog alternative and “it was much more thought out.”
“The budget that best represents what we can work for is the president’s budget,” Gilchrest said. “The challenge now is how to handle that surplus, and I believe this budget has the right priorities.”