Maryland Dems Join Stimulus Approval

“By Leonard Sparks
Capital News Service

Each of Maryland’s House Democrats voted Friday to approve a $787 billion spending and tax cut package that could bring billions to the state for transportation projects and support for schools, unemployed workers and businesses affected by the downturn.

No Republicans voted for the legislation, including Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick. But Democrats used their 77-seat majority to easily win passage by a vote of 246 to 183, sending the bill to the Senate for a final vote.

Even freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Stevensville, voted for the measure, which was a compromise with the Senate. He was one of just 11 Democrats to defect from the House’s original vote on the stimulus package.

“”Millions and millions and millions of Americans will receive a tax cut,”” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said during a 1 1/2-hour debate before the vote. “”Millions and millions of millions of people will be helped as they’ve lost their jobs and can’t put food on the table of their families.””

The moderate Kratovil overcame his frustration with the original House bill, although the final bill still falls short in areas offering the “”biggest bang for the buck,”” he said.

“”Everyone seems to agree that we need to do something,”” he said. “”I think the bill we got back was better. It’s not perfect.””

Democrats survived a barrage of criticism from Republicans, who excoriated the 1,000-page legislation as a pork-laden expansion of government spending that falls short on tax cuts and job creation.

Republicans also accused Democrats of ramming the bill through Congress without bipartisan cooperation.

Bartlett called the legislation “”job killing,”” not “”job making”” in a statement.

“”I hope this will work, but it would be the first time in history that a government could borrow and spend an economy out of a recession,”” he said. “”This fulfills the wish of liberals to expand government spending and control over Americans’ lives and their hard-earned money.””

The legislation’s goals are broad. President Obama and congressional Democrats are predicting that spending on such projects as highways and bridges will save or create 3.5 million jobs.

The bill designates about $54 billion to a “”stabilization”” fund to help states balance their budgets; $48 billion for airport, highway, port and transit projects; $6 billion for clean water and drinking water projects; and $6 billion for repairing public housing and redeveloping abandoned and foreclosed homes.

It also includes a tax credit of up to $400 for individuals and $800 for families, expanded eligibility for the child tax credit and a deduction for sales taxes on car purchases that was championed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

The legislation increases the federal share of Medicaid at a cost of $87 billion and authorizes $36 billion for 33-week unemployment benefit extensions and a $25 increase in weekly unemployment checks.

A state-by-state breakdown released by Hoyer’s office estimates that the legislation will create or save 66,000 jobs for Maryland.

The state will gain an estimated $719 million from the stabilization fund, $705 million for infrastructure improvements and $255 million for its food stamps program, according to the analysis.

“”Inaction is not an option,”” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington. “”‘Just say no’ is not an answer to the American people at this time, and if our colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to define themselves as the party of ‘NoBama’ I think that the American people will call them and say it’s time for us work together.”””