Members of the Maryland Senate's budget committee, declaring that their conservative reputations had been besmirched by widespread expectations that they would restore millions of dollars of controversial cuts made by House colleagues, today voted to "teach 'em a lesson" by approving the reductions without even considering them.
The motion approved by the committee would forward $54 million in cuts approved by the House last week to the Senate floor unchanged, even though the budget committee's own review of the $5.6 billion proposed budget for next year concluded that many of the House actions were irresponsible and that less than half that amount should be sliced.
"There was no rationale for many of these cuts, there was no logic, they [the House] just pulled them out of the air," declared Senate Minority Leader Edward Mason (R-Cumberland). "But I don't think we ought to pull their tails out of the fire and be called the liberals. I think we ought to make them live with them."
Even senators who enjoy reputations as liberals worried today that they were being used by House leaders, who, they contended, joined in the "David Stockman fever" that raged in the House only because they were counting on the Senate budget committee to undo their work. "The House has really jammed us with an inside curve that even Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron couldn't hit," said Sen. Clarence Blount (D-Baltimore).
"If what we just did was ridiculous," Blount added, "then what was done by the House was even more rediculous."
Committee Chairman Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery) opposed his panel's action, which fiscal officials quickly dubbed "the St. Patrick's Day Massacre," but said the outraged senators might hold to their position unless House leaders agreed to back down from some of the cuts.
"One thing the House did was shift the pressure and the public focus on us," he noted. "So what we did was send it back over there and said, let the lobbyists and pressure groups go back over there and start screaming."
House Speaker Bejamin Cardin (D-Baltimore) responded, however, that "we're not interested in a compromise. We're proud of what we've done." He added: "I don't think the Senate's action will hold up. I think they should review the budget and make their own recommendations. If they don't make that review I think the budget will suffer."
The vote in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee was 9-to-2 to accept the House budget, but several members who opposed the move were out of the room when the motion passed, unaware of what their colleagues had planned.
When Prince George's Sen. Tommie Broadwater arrived late to discover what had happened, he told the committee members angrily, "You want to beat the House, and who loses in the end -- the people of Maryland." Instead of approving the cuts out of pique, Broadwater said, "the Senate leadership should sit down with the House and say, 'Hey man, you acting like damn fools there in House Appropriations.'"
But committee members who approved the move insisted they would rather accept cuts that gored their own favorite projects than restore them and leave the important budget decisions to a six-member conference committee, even as they were portrayed as advocates of spending in the year of nationwide budget-slashing.
"There are some cuts in here that I don't like," said conservative Baltimore County Sen. Francis Kelly. "But the House has acted irresponsibly and the only way you're going to change that is to learn a lesson this year.
"I think we can go out on the floor and stick to this get it through, and maybe we won't have to stay here 90 days," Kelly said. "We can go home a couple of days early and do the people a lot more good than we have in the last 60 days."