WASHINGTON -- The revised budget agreement that was passed by the House and was pending in the Senate yesterday will cost state government less money, but some members of the Maryland congressional delegation complained that the accord is still too burdensome on middle-class taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries.
"We're adding taxes but we're not cutting spending," said Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, who joined Representative Roy P. Dyson, D-Md.-1st, as the only members of the Maryland delegation to vote against the revised $500 billion budget package early yesterday morning.
The remaining six members of the Maryland House delegation backed the proposal, including Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th. Mr. Mfume voted against the earlier budget accord -- as did Representatives Bentley and Dyson -- citing the package's increases in Medicare premiums.
Before the House voted, Mr. Mfume said he found the reduced Medicare increases "helpful" but the West Baltimore Democrat said he was still concerned about how the new taxes would be achieved.
The cut in the Medicare premium increases was designed to attract liberal Democrats like Mr. Mfume. Conservatives Republicans and Democrats -- such as Mrs. Bentley and Mr. Dyson -- still would not accept the revised package.
The state, which has to pick up the rising Medicare premiums for the poor elderly, would not have to spend as much money under the new agreement, said Monica M. Healy, director of the state's Washington office. "There still will be a cost to the state, but the cost will not be as high," said Ms. Healy.
Under the initial agreement, the state estimated it would have to bear an additional $2 million for the first year of the five-year pact in costs for the poor elderly as well as another $30 million over five years for those elderly above the poverty level.
Ms. Healy said it was uncertain whether the new pact would require states to help defray the premium costs for those elderly above the poverty line.
Ms. Mikulski said she would like to see the new Medicare premiums trimmed even more, through defense cuts and higher income taxes for the wealthy.
"I am here to save Medicare, not only for my mom but for all the moms," declared Ms. Mikulski during a speech on the Senate floor yesterday afternoon.
The Maryland senator proposed the top tax rate of 33 percent for those making over $150,000 -- who now pay 28 percent -- and a 2 percent surcharge for those earning more than $500,000 each year, whom she described as "captains of industry" and "Wall Street go-go boys" as well as entertainment and sports figures.
"The sports figures in our society ought to step up to the plate and pay their fair share," she said. Her office estimated that these two income tax increases could generate as much as $77 billion over five years.
Additional money also can be saved by scrapping defense programs such as the MX missile and "star wars" -- the Strategic Defense Initiative, said Ms. Mikulski. She suggested additional cuts in domestic spending and noted that her Appropriations subcommittee cut $300 million from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget for the Bush administration's "Buck Rogers sci-fi project" that would send astronauts to the moon and then to Mars by the year 2040.
At the same time, Ms. Healy said the new package also does not appear to include a provision that would have changed the highway allocation formula. The change would have decreased federal money for Maryland. "We have a better chance of making sure it's not in the final package," she said.
Finally, the 12-cent rise in the gasoline tax -- part of the original proposal -- would have cost the state an estimated $89 million in revenue over the next five years because people would drive less, she said. Now sources speculate that any gas tax could be less under a new budget accord.
Ms. Healy said state officials hope that some portion of any gas tax be set aside for transportation programs. Currently the tax increase would be used to offset the deficit.