CHESTERTOWN – Moderate Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest was targeted Wednesday by a national liberal lobbying campaign trying to try to sway his vote against a GOP-sponsored budget bill.
About 20 people gathered by MoveOn.org Political Action rallied outside the Kennedyville Republican’s Chestertown office, urging Gilchrest to vote against the bill in the House.
The rally was held in concert with several others in Maryland and across the country. Similar rallies were also held at Gilchrest’s Bel Air office, in Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s district and on Capitol Hill.
Attendees called the bill a “Reverse Robin Hood,” stealing from the poor to give to the rich, and set up a Thanksgiving table with just one plate of eight settings brimming with a Turkey, cranberries and yams to symbolize the bill’s cuts.
At the core of the debate, are funding changes to social service programs like Medicaid, food stamps, free- and reduced-price school lunches and federal student grants and loans.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, over the next 10 years, cuts to Medicaid and the federal student loan program total $45.27 million and $20.45 million, respectively. It estimates 295,000 people could lose food stamps and 40,000 fewer children would qualify for free school meals.
House Democrats have also connected those cuts with the $70 billion in new tax breaks designated to mostly upper-income earners, including extending breaks on capital gains, as well as the alternative minimum tax relief, which expires this year.
Gilchrest defended the bill saying, “There are no new tax cuts on the horizon at all, period.” Instead, he said, funding has increased for several programs and Congress is considering extending some tax credits.
Ronald Reed, 47, works part-time maintenance at Kent Family Services Center and attends adult education classes to get his GED. Although Reed’s wife works full time, their incomes are not enough to support them and their two children.
“I don’t have extra money to buy the right kind of food for my children to stay healthy,” Reed said at the rally.
Last month, the family of four received $230 in food stamps, Reed said. The family also gets assistance from an energy program.
Gilchrest, a moderate Republican known for his pro-environmental stance, was one of several Republicans to hold their votes on the bill until sponsors removed Alaskan and off-shore oil drilling from the bill.
Protecting the environment is noble, said Julia Dray, a MoveOn.org volunteer. But “it’s not the only thing that matters to us.”
Claire Whitehall, of Chestertown, attended the rally.
“He’s really nice, we like him, she said of the congressman. “But we (don’t need) a nice guy at social events, but someone who will vote for our interests.”
What makes the funding cuts less palatable, said those at the rally, is what they believe are tax breaks to the wealthy.
“It’s just totally unjust” that the government takes away from the poor and gives to the rich, said Ann Hennessy of Rock Hall. She worries her 17-year-old granddaughter will be unable to afford college if federal student aid is cut.
A House vote was supposed to take place last week but Republican leaders yanked the bill because there weren’t enough votes to pass it.
Gilchrest said he was ready to vote for the bill last week, but conservative Republicans opposed some provisions. This week, the congressman is more optimistic about the bill’s passage.
“I feel pretty good because we’ve made this bill better. And we’ve been really fully engaged in this negotiation process,” Gilchrest said.
Among the issues on the negotiating table, he said, is funding for Medicaid, student loans and food stamps.
Gilchrest said the budget reconciliation package could be voted on by the end of the week, but cautioned changes could still be made in conference committee.