Maryland delegation split Republicans, Democrats, pick up party lines.

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- From the press gallery above the House chamber, viewers of the president's State of the Union address could see half of the room cheering wildly at the speech, and half sitting nearly expressionless.

They were the Republicans and the Democrats -- respectively -- and the opinions of the Maryland delegation paralleled those of the majority of their colleagues.


Republicans in the delegation rated the president's message from "a very good start" to "tremendous," while most Democrats said it was devoid of an overall vision. The Democrats also accused Mr. Bush of stealing his best ideas from Congress.

"I think we're on the threshold of something wonderful here and I think his bold initiative is tremendous," said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-1st, the most enthusiastic of Maryland's three Republican delegates. "It [the speech] was better than I could have anticipated."


Mr. Gilchrest said he agreed wholeheartedly with Mr. Bush's announced approach to stimulating the economy. The representative said he was particularly impressed with the idea of a $5,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers.

"I love that 'hope' thing," Mr. Gilchrest said. "Do you know what it means for someone to have dignity, to own their own house?"

Rep. Constance Morella, R-8th, also enthusiastically endorsed the president's plan. "I think he did an excellent job of laying out a blueprint for himself, for Congress and to inspire the American people," she said.

The congresswoman said she was glad the president "emphasized things we [in Congress] have been talking about," such as funding for research and development and tax credits to spur the economy.

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, called the president's plan "a very good beginning . . . We have a lot more to do, but if we can get this done by March 20th, as the president asked us to, we will be off to a good start."

Most of the Democratic delegates interviewed, however, accused the president of delivering a largely empty message, and of stealing his best ideas from legislators.

"I was glad to see the commander-in-chief adopted so many of my ideas," said Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski. She cited tax breaks for the middle class, extra funding for research and development, and tax credits for parents with children as ideas that were lifted from her agenda.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, also a Democrat, accused the president of delivering a "laundry list of proposals Congress wanted" instead of "a program for developing a more just and decent society."


He said the United States needs "a comprehensive vision" from its leaders to find its place in the post-Cold War world.

Mr. Sarbanes cited the extension of unemployment benefits as an idea that Mr. Bush stole from legislators. "The Congress tried three times last year to extend unemployment insurance" before the president agreed to the plan, he said. "In an election year, he is adopting proposals Congress put forth a long time ago."

During the speech, the most enthusiastic reaction from Democrats came when Mr. Bush called for an additional extension of unemployment benefits.

Mr. Bush "didn't lay out an offensive plan," said Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th. The speech "had the hype of the Super Bowl and the punch of the Buffalo Bills."

Mr. McMillen said Mr. Bush's plan is "meaningless" because it lacks key details. "There was a lot of talk about tax credits [for those who cannot afford health insurance], but he didn't deal with . . . controlling the cost of health care," he said.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, said one of the biggest holes in the president's plan is how his proposed spending program will be funded. "The bottom line is the president still must find a way to pay for it," he said.


Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd, criticized the president for saying that Congress has moved slowly on enacting economic growth legislation. "After all, it took him one year to acknowledge that there is a recession and three years to introduce a comprehensive economic package," Mr. Cardin said.

Reps. Beverly Byron, D-6th, and Steny Hoyer, D-5th, were not immediately available for comment after the address.