McMillen ad attacks Gilchrest Charge involves Medicare votes

October 21, 1992|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

For a political race in which ads have gotten more attention than issues, leave it to a commercial to become the first real campaign issue in Maryland's 1st Congressional District.

With less than two weeks remaining before the general election, Rep. Tom McMillen, the Democrat, is using a hard-hitting television ad to accuse Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of supporting deep cuts in Medicare benefits for the elderly.

Mr. Gilchrest has angrily denied the charge, but the issue has forced the Eastern Shore Republican to spend valuable campaign time defending his position on federal entitlement programs.

The ad, which contains footage of an elderly man walking slowly, prompted angry Gilchrest supporters to demonstrate outside a McMillen campaign office in Salisbury Saturday. And at a counter-demonstration in Salisbury Monday, a frustrated Mr. Gilchrest had to shout over protesters' voices to explain his Medicare votes.

The 1st District race is Maryland's only congressional contest in which two incumbents are vying for a single seat. The redrawn district takes in the Eastern Shore, part of Anne Arundel County and a sliver of Baltimore City.

Mr. McMillen leveled the Medicare charge again during a debate taped yesterday at the Maryland Public Television headquarters in Owings Mills and aired last night.

"My opponent voted to slash Medicare last year," Mr. McMillen said late in the 30-minute debate. "He's the only member of Congress from Maryland to do so. I don't think it's fair to balance our health-care budgets on the backs of our seniors."

Seeming prepared for the allegation but weary of responding to it, Mr. Gilchrest denied the claim.

"I'm going to say this again," he said. "I never voted to do anything to Medicare for senior citizens except strengthen Medicare for everybody. The bills I voted for would not increase premiums, the monthly premium, to senior citizens by one cent, except for the wealthiest of seniors making over $100,000 a year."

Mr. Gilchrest has said he supports legislation that would force well-to-do seniors to pay for part of their health benefits.

To prove their charge, McMillen campaigners point to two House budget votes cast by Mr. Gilchrest that they say would have forced all Medicare recipients to pay some of their monthly health-care premiums.

But Gilchrest aides say the two votes were for budget resolutions and amendments -- not actual appropriations bills -- that were meant to limit spending in a broad array of federal programs.

Gilchrest campaign manager Tony Caligiuri said the congressman never intended to support Medicare cuts, but voted for the measures only in an attempt to bring a budget debate to the House floor.

Neither measure passed, and ultimately both Mr. Gilchrest and Mr. McMillen voted for the same budget bill that was signed into law.

"We're down to arguing what was in Wayne's mind when he voted," said Mr. Caligiuri. "McMillen says he knows what was in Wayne's mind, and Wayne says he knows."

Both candidates agreed during the MPT debate that jobs and the environment are priorities in the district.

Mr. McMillen, a former university and professional basketball player, said he expects to work closely with the White House on 1st District interests if Democratic nominee Bill Clinton wins the presidency.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Gilchrest left the decision of who should represent the district up to the voters. He asked viewers to follow three criteria.

"Vote for the person that reflects your values," he said. "Vote for your community. And most important of all, vote for your children's future. Keep those three things in mind when you vote and no matter what you do, if you vote for those three things, you'll vote the right way."

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