By ANDY MARSO
WASHINGTON (February 16, 2011) With the ink barely dry on various 2012 federal budget proposals, the Maryland congressional delegation began working on shaping the final product this week.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, weighed in on the Republicans' plan to trim spending; Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, called President Obama's budget proposal "a credible first step," in need of adjustment; and Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, teamed up to push for tax relief for research and manufacturing.
On the House floor Wednesday, Hoyer opposed the Republican-authored continuing resolution bill introduced in the House Appropriations Committee Friday that takes President Obama's 2011 request and cuts another $100 billion.
"I agree that reducing spending is part of the fiscal solution," Hoyer said. "But let's reduce spending wisely, instead of doing it in such a way that costs America jobs. When we talk about cutting investments in education, in innovation, and in infrastructure, we are talking about cutting tomorrow's jobs."
Republicans swept into power in the House last November in part by promising to rein in a budget deficit that hit an estimated $1.65 trillion last year. Their budget proposal would cut funding to a host of federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration, Homeland Security, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
Hoyer called it "short-sighted" and later in the day hosted a news conference with other House Democrats, where he said the Republican plan would set back plans to update the country's infrastructure.
"We need to out-build our competitors because a world-class infrastructure—from highways to broadband connections to air traffic control systems—attracts and keeps businesses, creates jobs, and grows our economy," Hoyer said.
But House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., has defended the Republican plan.
"This year, our nation is spending 1.5 trillion dollars more than we have, running our debt to $14 trillion," Rogers said in a statement released by the committee. "The taxpayers have told us loud and clear that this is simply unacceptable, and have demanded that we get our nation's fiscal house in order."
Rogers said Obama's budget proposal, submitted Monday at $3.7 trillion with an estimated $1.1 trillion deficit, did not go far enough in cutting the deficit.
Even Maryland's Democrat-heavy delegation has reservations about the president's plan. In an interview at his office Tuesday, Cardin said he had mixed feelings about it.
He said he likes the five-year freeze on domestic discretionary spending (estimated to save $400 billion), but said he opposes cutting funding to low-income energy assistance programs, Community Development Block Grants, the Small Business Administration and water infrastructure programs. He also criticized the plan to freeze resources for prenatal programs for at-risk women.
Cardin said that, though the president's proposal "really does make hard choices," it was incomplete.
"If we're going to balance the federal budget then we really do need to take a look at the other major factors," Cardin said. "That is, tax reform—because we know that we're hemorrhaging so much money through tax expenditures—and we do need to take a look at entitlement spending."
Cardin serves on the Senate Finance Committee and the Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight. He said the current tax code has too many exceptions to what is taxable income, the rates are too high and the system needs to be streamlined.
"What the president suggested for corporate tax reform I think also goes for individual tax reform," Cardin said. "We could have lower rates if we had a more comprehensive tax base."
Three entitlement programs—Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—make up nearly 40 percent of Obama's budget proposal. Cardin said there is more money to be saved in health care by getting more people into primary care, managing chronic illnesses so they don't become crises and using technology to share medical records and reduce redundant tests.
With the Democrats in charge of the Senate and Republicans in charge of the House, the budget battle may rage until the March 4 government shutdown deadline.
Two members of the Maryland delegation say their plan will both help curb unemployment and, in the long run, reduce the deficit.
Edwards and Bartlett, who serve together on the Science and Technology Committee, introduced the "21st Century Investment Act of 2011" Monday. It would amend the federal tax code to permanently increase the Research and Development tax credit from 20 to 25 percent and increase the domestic manufacturing tax credit from 9 to 15 percent for the next 10 years.
Edwards sponsored a similar bill last year with four Democrats but it did not get out of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"We're really excited that Congressman Bartlett has come on the bill and we're excited to kind of promote this in Maryland and around the country in the next couple of months," Edwards spokesman Ben Gerdes said.
Lisa Wright, Bartlett's press secretary, said the bill would help make U.S. companies more competitive with those in other nations by reducing onerous tax burdens. She said that though it would seem to decrease tax revenues in the short-term, it would provide incentives for growth that would ultimately increase the tax base.
"Income has to be generated before taxes can be paid to the government," Wright said. "Congressman Bartlett believes that if we have increased business activity and increased income for companies and their workers we will in fact be generating more revenue."