WASHINGTON -- A majority of Maryland's congressional delegation voted in favor of the budget package last night, despite strong opposition from many constituents.
Of the eight House members from Maryland, Roy P. Dyson, D-1st, Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, and Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, voted against the package.
Although they are political opposites, Mrs. Bentley and Mr. Mfume voted together in opposing the budget compromise -- as did many other liberals and conservatives. Mr. Mfume said earlier in the week that he was concerned that the package placed too heavy a burden on the elderly, the poor and the middle class.
Hundreds of callers opposing the federal budget accord -- many of them senior citizens -- had voiced their opinions to Maryland representatives as Congress prepared to vote on the tax-raising measure.
"The people are frightened, really frightened," said a staffer for Representative Bentley, adding that many callers were opposed to increases in Medicare premiums that are part of the deficit-reduction measure. "The vast majority are against it," the staff member said.
President Bush's televised appeal for Americans to contact their congressmen and push for the plan seemed to have backfired among Marylanders.
An aide to Mr. Mfume said that of 90 calls received, only nine favored the accord hammered out by President Bush and congressional leaders.
At the same time, senior citizen lobbyists "have been calling like crazy." An aide to Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, reported that calls were running 65 percent against the accord. Besides the elderly, other callers have included middle-income voters who feel they are bearing the brunt of taxes that would increase the prices of liquor, cigarettes and gasoline.
Boat salesmen also called to complain that a tax on yachts costing more than $100,000 would further hurt an already depressed industry.
"We're not really happy about it at all," said Bob Orr, general manager of Feltman Powerboats in West River, who said the average sale is between $175,000 and $200,000. "Obviously, the impact is going to be a negative one on boat sales."
Negotiators should consider either graduating the tax or preparing higher ceilings, said Mr. Orr. Many potential buyers may now decide to either purchase a smaller boat or maintain their present craft, he said, leaving the federal government without its planned tax money.
"Congress and the president cannot balance the budget on the backs of the senior citizens," said Representative Roy P. Dyson, D-Md.-1st, the first member of the delegation to announce his opposition to the plan.
The congressman also said that the 12-cent increase in the gasoline tax would have a "devastating economic impact" on the 1st District, where many residents depend on their cars because there is little public transportation.
Meanwhile, Maryland officials said the budget accord would cost financially strapped Maryland more than originally anticipated as a result of increased Medicare costs for a greater number of poor elderly and possible decreases in federal highway funds through a new allocation formula.
The state would have to assume the proposed increases in Medicare premiums for the poor elderly, which could cost $2 million during the first year of the five-year accord. But yesterday state officials said they learned the agreement calls for assuming the costs for more elderly people above the poverty line. That could cost Maryland $30 million over five years, officials said.
"The state will be fighting it through the National Governor's Association," said a staffer with the state's Washington office. "We'll be weighing in with our delegation."
At the same time, a provision tagged onto the plan -- but not part of cutting the deficit -- would alter the allocation for highway programs, increasing the minimum allocation for some states.
The change would hurt Maryland -- which picked up $410 million this year in federal highway funding -- while benefiting others like Texas and California, said Monica M. Healy, director of the state's Washington office.
"States that are losers are getting together to block it," Ms. Healy said.
In addition, the 12-cent gasoline increase could mean the financially strapped state could lose some $89 million in revenue over the next five years since people would buy less gasoline, according to a study by the National Association of State Budget Officers.