Md. Democrats praise Clinton on health care STATE OF THE UNION


WASHINGTON -- Democrats in the Maryland congressional delegation lavished praise on President Clinton's speech while Republicans wondered how the ambitious agenda would be financed and criticized his threat to veto health care legislation.

"I cannot recall a State of the Union as strong and powerful as this one," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who has been on Capitol Hill for nearly a quarter-century. He praised the speech of the president for its "focused agenda" and said it showed "how deeply he believed in what he said."

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the Baltimore County Republican who is running for governor, agreed that the president "talked about areas needed to be talked about -- health care, welfare, crime. But there were very important missing ingredients. How are they going to be paid for and what's the economic policy needed to generate jobs to pay for it all?"

Mrs. Bentley said the president's threat to veto health care legislation that does not guarantee private health insurance for every American -- "either his health care plan or none -- was a little disturbing."

Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, one of the legislators who escorted the president to the House floor, called it "one of President Clinton's best speeches. It was strong, it was clear, it was specific -- not so much about what government can do, but about what we all can do if we come together."

Added Baltimore Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a liberal bloc important to Mr. Clinton's chances of success, "He brings a human side to a very difficult set of problems."

While Mr. Mfume generally praised the speech, he said he would rather see more money put into Head Start, inner city jobs programs and drug treatment programs than see billions spent on more prisons.

Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore said the speech was "just what this country needs. He held nothing back. He told what he thought was right."

GOP Rep. Constance A. Morella, of Montgomery County, also embraced the president's speech, but urged him to reach out to Republicans for support.

"President Clinton should remember that many of these issues have been promoted by Republicans and he needs to work on both sides of the aisle to resolve all these issues," she said.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, described the address as "one of Clinton's best speeches -- as deeply felt a State of the Union address as I've heard in my 13 years here."

Mr. Hoyer said the president discussed security issues abroad "but brought it back home. We have to have security in our neighborhoods, our communities, our schools, our homes and on our streets."

Rep. Albert R. Wynn, the Prince George's County Democrat, called the speech "very impressive," saying the president "refocused the national debate on the really serious issues -- health care and crime."

"He touched all the right bases," he said.

Mr. Wynn acknowledged that the president's ambitious program might be difficult to achieve in the face of a budget that Mr. Clinton said would cut spending in 300 programs and eliminate 100 federal programs.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, the Eastern Shore Republican, said he also was disturbed by the president's threat to veto health care legislation.

"He was talking bipartisanship, but then he blows it when he says he'll veto health care 'if it's not my way,' " he said.

Mr. Gilchrest said the president set a partisan tone at the beginning of the speech. "It just pervaded all the way through the entire speech," he said. "It lent a sense of cynicism to it. And he said some good things -- the welfare reform discussion, the crime bill that he wants to pass."

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland, one of the most partisan Republicans in the House, said the president "gave his usual good speech. I was persuaded that he is a very persuasive speaker."

Mr. Bartlett saw hope for bipartisanship on crime legislation, claiming that the U.S. crime rate would be cut drastically "if we prevent criminals from committing a second crime."

But, he disagreed with Mr. Clinton's comments on taxes, saying the American people will realize on April 15 "that the largest tax increase in American history is not going to be good for America -- not going to be good for their families."

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