By Patrice Dickens and Catherine Dolinski
WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers who had hoped for President Bush to address both the nation’s domestic and foreign challenges in his State of the Union speech Tuesday said they got most of what they wanted.
But while the state’s congressional delegation fell squarely behind the president in his call for a renewed war on terrorism and terrorist sponsor states, some lawmakers worried that the president would not be able to deliver on his domestic promises.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., said the president “sent out a very sobering statement about the terrorist threat,” but added that he saw problems in his national spending proposals.
“We absolutely have to move against terrorism, but if he pushes defense and homeland security, and also tries to do a giant tax cut, the deficit will be large and long-term,” Sarbanes said. “There was a basic contradiction in the goals he laid out.”
Other members of the state’s congressional delegation were unabashedly supportive of the president’s message.
“I’d give him an A-plus,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville. “I’m a former schoolteacher. He did his homework.”
The 45-minute speech, Bush’s first official State of the Union address, was interrupted 67 times by applause.
Bush told the nation that, despite foreign and domestic challenges, the state of the union is stronger than ever. He said his primary objective is to “win the war, protect our homeland and revive the economy.”
Toward that end, he urged Congress to cut bipartisan posturing over national issues and to “act not as Republicans, not as Democrats, bus as Americans.”
In a far-reaching speech, the president said that the war on terrorism had not ended with early military victories in Afghanistan but that it was only just beginning.
He called for the largest increase in defense spending in two decades, saying that “whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay.” Included in the military increase is a proposed pay raise for military personnel, which several Maryland lawmakers hailed as a potential boon to the state.
The president called on Congress to pass a Patients Bill of Rights and to alter Medicare to include prescription drug coverage for seniors.
He also laid out plans for an expansion of faith-based initiatives and an increase of volunteerism through the creation of the USA Freedom Corps.
“We have glimpsed what a new culture of responsibility looks like . . . my call tonight is to commit at least two years, or 4,000 hours, of service to your neighbors and your nation,” Bush said.
Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, said she liked the fact that Bush “gave praise to the nation and pleaded with them to stick together.”
“We believe in community service in Maryland. It’s required in our schools, so I like that he asked everyone to make a pledge of community service,” Morella said. — CNS reporters Shannon Canton, Stephen S. Chapman, Candia Dames, Michelle Krupa and Laura A. Said contributed to this report.