Md. delegation remains undecided on endorsement of deficit-reduction package


WASHINGTON -- The deficit-reduction package may have won the endorsement of President Bush and congressional leaders, but most members of the Maryland delegation remain undecided, with a proposed increase in Medicare payments their chief complaint.

Only Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, a member of the House leadership, and Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., said they could support the package. Both men said

the alternative to the budget accord would be automatic spending cuts, which would be devastating to the economy.

"It's something that I can support," said Mr. Hoyer, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "It's better than the alternative, and the alternative is sequestration, gridlock . . future deterioration in the confidence of the American economy."

Added Mr. Sarbanes: "We're up against some very tight deadlines. If we don't get a package we're going to be back with chaos."

The remaining eight members of the delegation said they were engaged in fiscal fence sitting.

"I'm still studying it," said Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, a refrain echoed by his colleagues.

Most of the members grumbled about a nearly $6 increase in monthly Medicare premiums -- from the current $28.60 to about $34 -- by Jan. 1 for the elderly and disabled. "Medicare is my highest priority," said Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, who said the 5 percent increase in monthly premiums is too high. Mr. Cardin also said he was opposed to an increase in the annual deductible paid by Medicare beneficiaries, which would rise from $75 to $100 on Jan. 1, $125 in 1992, and $150 in 1993-1995.

Mr. McMillen and Representative Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, also said they were troubled by the suggested increases in Medicare premiums, while Representative Constance Morella, R-Md.-8th, proposed taking more money out of the defense budget to put into Medicare.

Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, said she found difficult to support an increase in Medicare premiums while foreign corporations still owe the treasury $35 billion in taxes.

Since the state of Maryland bears the Medicare costs for lower-income residents, the initial increaseswould cost the State House about $2 million, said Monica M. Healy, director of the state's Washington office.

But she agreed the budget accord is better than across-the-board cuts that would have kicked in yesterday -- the start of the fiscal year -- without an agreement. Gov. William

Donald Schaefer said such drastic cuts would "wreak havoc" on the state's economy.

Representative Roy P. Dyson, D-Md.-1st, said that while he can support the "luxury item" liquor and cigarette taxes, he found the gasoline tax "most onerous" to his auto-dependent constituents. don't have any Metros or subways in the 1st District," he said.

Meanwhile, many of the delegation members said they were relieved that the budget accord did not eliminate the 3.5 percent cost-of-living raise for federal workers.

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