WASHINGTON -- At a raucous rally that attracted at least 3,000 demonstrators to the U.S. Capitol steps today, Maryland's federal lawmakers vowed to fight layoffs of federal employees scheduled to start next week.
"We don't want hostages held in Iraq, and we don't want federal employees held hostage either," shouted Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.
Amid chants of "We say no, they say furlough!" most congressional speakers blamed the prospect of furloughs on the Bush administration. President Bush has been insisting on cuts in the capital gains tax, which most Democrats have opposed during the budget deficit summit.
Without an agreement at the budget summit by Sunday night, furloughs of varying severity are to start Monday or Tuesday at most federal agencies.
Looking out at the rally, sponsored by the American Federation of Government Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd, said, "They shouldn't be scapegoats because of the president's insistence on a tax break for the wealthy."
While demonstrators hooted the Bush administration in Washington, Social Security Administration Commissioner Gwendolyn S. King was meeting with union leaders in a last-ditch effort to negotiate a less severe layoff plan.
According to union sources, King is pondering the possibility of employees working six-hour days, four days a week, with Fridays off. She also was said to be considering some sort of staggered furloughs that would keep offices open five days a week.
At the rally in Washington, Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, told demonstrating federal employees that they "ought to be angry."
"There is no reason why in this nation, year after year, we get to this same point," he said. "We've got to tell that White House down the street to stop playing these games."
Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, the only Republican to speak at the rally, told the crowd "to treat you like this is totally unfair."