5 politicians debate Clinton economic plan before homebuilders Republicans ridicule Democratic policy

March 28, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

"You here for the speeches or the breakfast?" County Councilman Darrel Drown asked.

He was not altogether kidding. He knew his talk to the Howard County chapter of the Homebuilders Association would be as rousing a political speech as he has given in some time.

Mr. Drown, R-2nd, had the last word in a five-politician lineup that included County Executive Charles I. Ecker; council chair Shane Pendergrass, D-1st; and council members Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, and Charles C. Feaga, R-5th. Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, was in Japan.

The homebuilders assured themselves of a spirited political debate by asking the three Republicans and two Democrats what they thought of President Clinton's economic policy.

Mr. Drown did not disappoint them. He ridiculed the president's policy, likening it to a person who is planing to go on a diet tomorrow and buys 30 pounds of chocolates today.

"You give Congress a buck and they spend $1.60," Mr. Drown said, alluding to the president's plan for a $300 million tax increase. "We're $4 trillion in debt."

The only way to reduce the federal debt, Mr. Drown said, would be to tie congressional salaries to the deficit.

If the debt is eliminated, Congress would get a raise. If the deficit continues, congressional salaries would be cut in half or eliminated altogether.

"I think [Mr. Clinton's] economic policy is tremendous," said Mr. Ecker, who became a Republican shortly before the 1990 election. "He did away with poverty in 60 days."

L "Seriously, I think it's too early to tell," Mr. Ecker said.

Of greater concern, he said, is what Mr. Clinton's health care proposal could mean to the county.

One possibility, he said, is a 7 percent payroll tax.

If county government had to pay the whole amount for its employees, the county would have to raise the property tax by 21 cents per $100 of assessed value to pay for it, Mr. Ecker said.

Mr. Feaga chastised the homebuilders for asking dumb questions. "There's no such thing as a free lunch," he said of Mr. Clinton's economic proposal.

"I have trouble not calling him Carter."

As Mr. Feaga railed against Democrats. -- calling the Job Corps "a joke" and Mr. Clinton "a president who despises the military" -- Ms. Pendergrass stormed out of the room.

"I'm trying to keep my blood pressure down," she told the homebuilders on her return. "These Republicans don't know what they're talking about."

Mr. Farragut aimed his humor at local projects.

After telling the homebuilders that there is a "major, major problem with the federal deficit," he turned to what he called the most important project in Howard County -- completion of Route 32.

"I've got good news and bad news," he said.

"The good news is that the state has made this a priority and has committed $40 million to it. The bad news it that it's going to cost four times that much."

The reason for the four-fold increase, he told a stunned audience, is that the roadway is the epicenter of the county's recent earthquakes and therefore needs to be reinforced according to California highway standards.

Mr. Farragut smiled at his grim-faced audience.

"It's a joke," he said.

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