Bush's budget proposal falls short, Democrats say

In Maryland

February 06, 2007|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Maryland would get less than it needs for homeland security, health insurance for poor children and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay under President Bush's budget proposal, critics said yesterday.

While the proposal delivered to Congress yesterday would increase federal grants for education, health care and other programs in Maryland from $5.6 billion to $5.8 billion, members of the state delegation said it shortchanges schools, medical research and local firefighters. They said they would work to boost funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the No Child Left Behind Act and bay clean-up efforts.

"Obviously, the president's budget is a starting point," said Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat, praised plans to fund the first phase of an Aircraft Prototype Facility at Patuxent River Naval Air Station and boost funding for the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt by $1 billion. But he said the overall budget was disconnected from the needs of Marylanders.

"Not only does the proposal make drastic cuts to the programs our state relies on, such as Medicare and Medicaid, and a host of other domestic priorities, it fails to rein in our growing federal deficits while protecting tax cuts for those making millions," Hoyer said in a statement.

The 3 percent raise proposed for federal employees is inadequate to close the gap with private-sector salaries, critics said.

The Maryland allocation includes $3.1 billion in Medicaid grants, up from $2.95 billion. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County said the $67 million for children's health insurance would not be enough in a state where 137,000 children are uninsured.

"The danger now is, you're going to increase the number of uninsured," Van Hollen said.

Bush has called for the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, but critics say his request does not include enough money to ensure that students make the yearly progress in math and reading that the law requires.

"It doesn't seem as though the federal government has kept up with the money, where their mouth has been," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the State Department of Education.

Federal Title I money for schools with high concentrations of poor students would rise from $186 million to $206 million under Bush's budget, while funding for Head Start, the popular school-readiness initiative, would be frozen at $77.2 million.

It is unclear how Bush's call to save $66 billion in Medicare over the next five years would affect state health care providers. Maryland hospitals do not directly rely on the federal government for Medicare reimbursements.

"We've built up a little bit of a favorable condition, so we won't have to react instantaneously," said Robert Murray, director of the state Health Services Cost Review Commission.

Bush requested no added spending for port, rail or transit security. He halved grants for firefighters. Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, a member of the Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, called the proposal "spartan and skimpy."

"How can he talk about homeland security when he has short-changed our ports, rail and transit systems?" she asked in a statement.

Mikulski said most Maryland volunteer fire departments rely on the federal grants. Bush's proposal to cut the grants from $662 million to $300 million "continues to leave our first responders behind," she said.

The budget includes $8.2 billion for military base realignment. Expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and other bases in the state is expected to bring 40,000 to 60,000 new jobs over the next five years.

The request includes $29 million to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. Cardin said it was "not anywhere near the funding level that is necessary."

"This is not a good budget at all for the environment," he said.

The proposal includes $135 million for a final space shuttle mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, which is managed through the Goddard Space Flight Center.

The request includes $28.9 billion, a $232 million increase, for the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's medical research arm, based in Bethesda. Most of that - $201 million - would go to boost contributions to a worldwide public health program, the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

The Bush administration says the budget includes money for 10,188 new and competing research grants to scientists. That would be an increase of 566 grants. But the average grant would remain at about $350,000, meaning that there would be no increase to cover rising research costs.

The request drew criticism from academics and researchers. Mary Woolley, president of Research!America, said the association of hospitals, medical schools and pharmaceutical companies was "extremely disappointed" that the funding did not keep up with inflation.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Siobhan Gorman, Jonathan D. Rockoff and David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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