WASHINGTON – Maryland Democrats assailed a Republican-crafted budget plan in the House on Thursday, saying it would harm low-income Marylanders statewide by decreasing their access to important federal aid and assistance programs.
Led by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, the delegation picked apart the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 and described funding cuts for food stamps, Medicaid, home heating assistance and higher education, even going as far as saying the bill would make it easier for deadbeat parents to avoid paying child support.
The bill was on the floor for a vote Thursday and just before noon the House recessed, which Hoyer claimed was due to a lack of sufficient GOP support.
“We are currently in recess in the House,” Hoyer said in a conference call, “as the Republican leadership tries to bludgeon its members into voting for a bad bill.”
Hoyer’s assessment was substantiated later in the afternoon when Republicans pulled the bill from the floor because they could not garner enough support from party moderates.
Six of Maryland’s eight congressmen are Democrats who joined the rest of the party’s 196 House members to vote against the bill.
Democratic opposition to the plan revolves around what they see as a combination of $50 billion in spending cuts and $70 billion in tax cuts, adding $20 billion to the federal deficit, instead of paying it down. Republican assessments of the bill do not figure the tax cuts in with the bill, which they say actually reduces the rate of federal spending.
Rep. Al Wynn, D-Largo, cited rising heating costs for the upcoming winter as a reason to increase federal home heating assistance for low-income Marylanders. While Congress authorized $5.1 billion for the program earlier this year, just $3 billion went toward the program in the budget plan on the floor Thursday.
“People are going to have to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table,” he said.
Wynn said the state needs $51 million to meet the projected need for heating assistance, well beyond the $32 million it has so far.
A spokeswoman for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, referred to a report by the House Republican Conference that rebutted these claims and said Republicans increased funding to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program by $1 billion, a 50-percent increase.
The Democratic cohort also attacked revisions that would narrow eligibility and eliminate automatic enrollment for food stamp programs. A proposed $844 million cut would drop 300,000 people from the rolls, and their loss of eligibility would mean 44,000 children being dropped from free school lunch programs. The Republican report, however, said food stamp spending has doubled to $35 billion in the last five years.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, criticized a bill provision that would result in a five-year, $94 million reduction in child support enforcement in the state.
“We need child support from deadbeat parents,” he said. “If we don’t focus on this, we will pay for it down the road.” The HRC countered by saying Republican provisions address administrative costs in child support enforcement, which are not supposed to be covered by federal dollars. It further asserts that states have been “double-dipping” into federal coffers by including administrative costs with enforcement costs, and that the reduction will occur in this area. – 30 – CNS-11-10-05