President's domestic agenda divides mostly along party lines

State Of The Union

February 03, 2005|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Maryland's congressional delegation last night echoed President Bush's praise of Iraq's first election in a half-century and the need to provide security there, but then it split mostly along party lines over the domestic issues outlined in the State of the Union address.

Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said she was encouraged by Bush's words on Sunday's election.

"We wish Iraq well," she said, but she quickly criticized the president's proposal to create private accounts within Social Security, which he said would be bankrupt by 2042.

"I think he's creating a phony crisis to shift money to Wall Street," Mikulski said. "We cannot gamble with Social Security."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, said: "I was disappointed on Social Security. He's trying to scare everyone.

"He said it's going to go bankrupt, and it's not."

While Bush said that many ideas for fixing the system are on the table, Cardin complained that Bush was brushing off some ideas, such as increasing the payroll tax.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Democratic whip from Southern Maryland, agreed.

"The president's decision to privatize Social Security, I think, is going to be opposed by the American people," he said. "It's certainly going to be opposed by the Democrats."

Hoyer said that Congress must make sure Social Security is available for "generations to come" and that there are alternatives to the accounts, such as putting part of the plan's surplus into the markets rather than into private accounts.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican from Western Maryland, said that Bush gave a "great speech" and that he supports the president's plan for personal accounts.

"If you have a personalized savings account, it's yours," he said.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who recently ended his term as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he and other caucus members pressed Bush to mention AIDS, education, justice and voting rights during a meeting last week. Last night, Bush noted that blacks are experiencing the highest rate of new AIDS cases.

"I specifically talked about AIDS. I told him 67 percent of all new AIDS cases are African-American women. He looked shocked, almost," recalled Cummings.

The Baltimore Democrat said he was "a bit surprised" that Bush singled out Syria and Iran, noting that the United States has its hands full dealing with Iraq.

Although he opposed the war, Cummings said the United States must "stay the course" and get the Iraqi forces trained before bringing American troops home.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he wished that Bush had said more about getting other countries to help the United States in Iraq.

But Bartlett, who recently returned from a congressional trip to North Korea, said Bush struck the right diplomatic tone in his address by saying that the United States is working with Asian nations to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican from the Eastern Shore, said the most powerful moment of the night came when the Iraqi woman who sat next to first lady Laura Bush in the House gallery and voted in Sunday's election embraced the mother of a Texas Marine killed in Iraq.

"The distance evaporated," said Gilchrest, adding that the embrace produced a "friendship that will tie the two countries together."

But on the domestic side, Gilchrest said he was concerned about Bush's plan to cut back on 150 federal programs and wondered how some might affect the Chesapeake Bay.

Such environmental programs are often the easiest to target, but Gilchrest said he and other lawmakers must do a better job at explaining the benefits of such programs.

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