WASHINGTON -- Maryland members of Congress expressed a wide range of reactions to President Clinton's health care proposal last night -- from warmly embracing its key elements to expressing strong skepticism.
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore, who has worked with the White House on crafting the plan, welcomed its official unveiling.
"I hope that by the end of 1994 we will have passed the basic plan that provides universal coverage, brings costs under control and deals with the other priorities" outlined by the president last night, he said.
Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said, "I really support President Clinton's effort to cure the health care system," but that the "cost and complexity" of the proposal give her pause.
Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes described it as "a very powerful speech. . . . This is the first president who has addressed the health care issue head on and I commend him for it."
Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince Georges County Democrat, said he was "favorably impressed" by the president's speech. "I don't think he locked himself into the specifics of the plan, so he gave us a lot of flexibility to work out a bipartisan solution."
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, saw the possibility of Republican cooperation in approving the plan. "I think you'll get consensus in the next six or seven months," said the Southern Marylander. "Every indication we've had is that the Republicans want to be positive, participating players in bringing about health care reform in America."
Baltimore Democrat Kweisi Mfume said he "felt good," but warned that "the devil is in the details." The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus said, "We have to convince with plain arithmetic, in black and white, that the money to pay for this is not an illusion."
Eastern Shore Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest was "optimistic" because a proposal is finally on the table and Congress can begin to work on it, while Montgomery County Republican Constance A. Morella was "upbeat," saying "this is a good first step."
Maryland's other two Republican representatives, Helen Delich Bentley and Roscoe G. Bartlett took a much more cautious approach.
Mrs. Bentley, the Baltimore County Republican said, "It sounds great, but the details are a question. Are you going to lay on layers of bureaucracy to see that everyone gets care?"
The Baltimore County Republican is concerned about creating a new bureaucracy to oversee national health spending "when we are talking about downsizing government" and about how the plan is to be financed.
Mr. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, echoed her comment. In a prepared statement, he said he is "wary of establishing yet another
government agency -- especially one with $900 billon in oversight authority and 50,000 new bureaucrats," referring to Mr. Clinton's plan for a National Health Board to oversee medical care. The figures, said a Bartlett aide, come from an analysis by a House Republican task force on health care reform.
Mrs. Bentley said there is a sense of urgency: "We've got to do something. Some small businesses in the Baltimore area are not hiring, not expanding and not adding to economic growth because of the total uncertainty of the cost of health care and where it's going to end up."
Her concern about the impact on small business of the requirement to furnish employees with health insurance is shared by a number of members of the delegation who said they are worried about possible job loss.
Mr. Gilchrest warned that up to 1 million people could lose their jobs if the health care proposal is passed.
The Eastern Shore Republican said he supports the idea of universal health care coverage, "but the way you do it is important."
"I'm a little concerned about too much government interference in an area as complex as this when trained medical people should have a fairly free hand to make a judgment. I have less faith in a bureaucracy to make decisions."
But, he added, "We should be able to reform health care so we have better access and improved quality and we make it affordable."