Md.'s GOP representatives promise not 'to rub it in'

January 05, 1995|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,Sun Staff Writer Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Members of Maryland's delegation to Congress responded to yesterday's lavish and boisterous confirmation of Republican ascendancy on Capitol Hill with a lot of hope, a little uncertainty, and here and there a touch of apprehension.

"All things being equal, this day belongs to the Republican Party," said Baltimore Democrat Kweisi Mfume, who headed the Black Caucus, whose funds were eliminated yesterday under new house rules.

Mr. Mfume promised to be a dogged opponent of the Republican agenda. Still, there was some expectation among the Democrats that things won't be as bad as they expected after having been dislodged from power Nov. 8 in what one Republican described as "the political megatide of history."

There was a restrained hope on the part of Republicans that they would be able to fulfill their promises to the American people, or at least many of them.

If they don't, most seem to agree, things won't go well for them in the elections two years from now.

Maryland Republicans in the House, for the first time in four decades enjoying the pleasures and power of majority -- more sumptuous offices, other perks they never knew existed -- all promised not "to rub it in" for past slights by Democrats.

Two Republicans even hinted some strife might develop among members of their own party, or with the rightward tilt of the new Congress.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, the Eastern Shore Republican, recalled that under the Democratic majority laws were frequently passed as if the GOP was irrelevant. "They never included me in their deliberations," he said. "Now I have a part; I won't exclude them."

Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Republican from Montgomery County, complained that the Democrats had used their majority to bring 80 percent of the bills in the last session of Congress to the floor under rules that prohibited amendments, or allowed only one.

"This is an example of their arrogance of power," she said. "I think there will be less of that."

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Baltimore County Republican who replaced Helen Delich Bentley and the only new member of the delegation, described the "almost giddy reaction of veteran Republican members" during this week's training sessions and ceremonies.

"My class reflects the sea change in this country. It reflects the changing nature of the party nationally," Mr. Ehrlich said.

It also reflects a strongly conservative surge that he thinks may exclude liberal initiatives for as long as it continues to flow. But, he added, there will be bipartisan cooperation in the 104th Congress, of a sort.

"Conservative and moderate Democrats will have a part to play, but not the liberals," he said. "That may also be true of the more liberal Republicans."

Potential internal Republican friction was signaled by the stated intentions of Mrs. Morella and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, the delegation's most conservative member.

"The voters have given the Republican Party an opportunity," said Mr. Bartlett. "The toughest thing we have to do is to cut spending."

He made clear that the preferred way of doing that -- besides reducing entitlements like welfare, federal disability and food stamps -- was to reduce the cost of administering government by cutting jobs.

"Bureaucracies," he said, "have a tendency to grow and grow."

In Mrs. Morella's home base of Montgomery Country, bureaucracies also have a tendency to vote and vote. Federal employees form one of the larger blocs within her constituency.

"I'm an advocate for my civil servants," said the congresswoman, smiling with vehemence. "And I will be fighting hard."

Mr. Mfume watched with resignation as Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia promised in his first speech as speaker to work with members of both parties.

Mr. Mfume said that he had little choice but to take Mr. Gingrich at his word. "I have no reason not to trust the speaker," Mr. Mfume said.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a four-term Baltimore Democratic congressman, said he doesn't agree that Republicans were excluded from the legislative process during the years his party was in power, though there may have been occasional abuses.

Nor does he think it would be in the Republicans' interest to return the favor.

"If they shut the Democrats out they're going to be in office for two years. If it happens on a regular basis, we're going to have a majority Democrats after the next election," he said.

The hope that a bipartisan atmosphere may descend on the House seemed nearly universal within the state's delegation -- fed, perhaps, by the surprisingly conciliatory speech made by new Speaker Gingrich.

The state's senior senator, Paul S. Sarbanes, said that bipartisanship, or the lack of it, is "more of a House issue than a Senate issue," where the Democrats were in the minority for six years in the 1980s.

The Maryland delegation, he said, "has always worked together on state issues," adding, "on national issues the delegation will always reflect the national parties."

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