Maryland delegation split on speech Democrats hail agenda

Republicans see return of big government

January 28, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun national staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Democrats among Maryland's members of Congress hailed President Clinton's State of the Union address last night for setting what they see as a progressive agenda to promote America's families.

Their Republican counterparts argued that Clinton's speech, punctuated by proposals on hot-button issues, would push the country into a new era of big government.

While members of the state's congressional delegation were split along partisan lines, they were unified by a desire to avoid acknowledging the scandals that have besieged the White House.

Instead, they focused on the substance of the president's marathon speech in their remarks late last night. During the address, Clinton heralded an age of balanced budgets but announced proposals to help subsidize child care, reform managed care, clean the waters, raise the minimum wage, boost biomedical research, hire police officers and teachers and pay for school construction and college scholarships.

"The era of big government has returned," charged Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican. "It's the real Bill Clinton, and it's the Gephardt wing of the Democratic Party ascendant. He's federalizing just about every aspect of our lives." House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri is seen as a probable presidential contender for 2000 with a liberal perspective.

Countered Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Southern Maryland Democrat: "I thought it was an excellent speech. He was properly proud of the job that his administration, in league with the Congress, had done in bringing the budget under control. And he talked about what the American people care about."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who represents some poorer, inner-city areas, had high praise for Clinton's proposals on early education and child care. "In our district, principals are very concerned," he said. "Children don't come to school prepared."

Several Republicans said the president set priorities that even they could back -- in theory.

"The challenge is making all those good things he talked about happen without making the size of the government grow," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican. "There's no argument with the things he wants to do. Who's not going to support better schools and less crime?"

Lawmakers also suggested that they would not be distracted by the explosive allegations that Clinton had an affair with a former intern and lied about it under oath. "That will have virtually no impact on how we debate these issues in the House," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Baltimore Democrat, said Clinton had offered an agenda that would appeal to both parties. "The president showed that even though he has been surrounded by these allegations he was focused, he was clear, he was crisp," she said. "This was a content-rich speech."

And at least one senior Maryland Democrat who had not previously spoken out about the allegations weighed in on the president's behalf. "I take the president at his word," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Baltimore Democrat, who called on the media to "reduce the hype" and to allow facts to emerge.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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