WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers split Wednesday on a plan to stimulate the faltering economy, but voted overwhelmingly for anti-terrorism legislation that would expand police power to secretly search homes, tap phone lines and monitor Internet use of suspected terrorists.
The split on the economic stimulus package — which would provide $100 billion in tax incentives to corporations and individuals — came mostly on party lines, with all Maryland Democrats voting against it and three of the four Republicans supporting it. In Maryland, only Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, crossed party lines to vote against the bill.
The House ultimately passed the measure 216-214.
The anti-terrorism bill passed the House 357-66, with seven of Maryland’s eight House members voting for it. The only Maryland opposition came from Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore.
Cummings declined comment on his vote Wednesday evening, but other delegation members said the legislation strikes a good balance between strong law enforcement and civil liberties.
“It gives law enforcement the capabilities they need but still protects individual rights,” said Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore. He and other Democrats said the bill’s “sunset” measure, under which the law will expire in four years, could have been shorter but should ensure the protection of civil rights.
“Was it perfect? No. Was it what we need now? I think so,” she said. “It’s as good a compromise as possible that protects civil liberties and still gives the authority to law enforcement that it needs to track the terrorists.”
Lawmakers said the bill is needed to equip law enforcement to deal with technological advances by criminals and terrorists.
“A lot of these changes should have been made anyway. Now they are essential,” Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium.
There was significantly less agreement on the economic stimulus package, which some members said is too focused on business and not enough on the workers who are unemployed in the economic aftershocks of Sept. 11.
The bill would repeal the corporate alternative minimum tax, which ensures that businesses pay at least some income tax. It would also provide tax write- offs for corporate capital assets, cut the 27 percent individual income tax rate to 25 next year and provide tax rebates for those who did not get them this year.
“It doesn’t do enough for workers who were displaced after the terrorist attacks,” said Cardin. “We need to put more into unemployment insurance.”
Morella said the plan “leans too much toward a handful of corporations” and she challenged supporters’ claims that it will inspire corporations to re- invest in the economy.
But other Republicans said supporting business would stimulate the economy.
“The last time I checked, it was business that creates the jobs,” Ehrlich said. “We’ll stimulate the capitalist economy by freeing capital.”
Opponents charged that the package’s price tag was too steep.
“It will just exacerbate our deficit problems,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D- Mechanicsville. “We’ll end up with over $200 billion in unpaid debt.”
But Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said more may yet be needed, “But it’s as much as we can get through right now.
“If the economy continues to worsen, I’m sure we’ll do more later,” Bartlett said.
President Bush supports both the anti-terrorism and the economic stimulus packages.