For Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), the federal budget crisis became very personal yesterday: It took her away from the bedside of her ailing mother.
As her daughter told it on the Senate floor, 75-year-old Christine Mikulski was rushed to a Baltimore hospital early yesterday barely able to talk or breathe. But, the senator said, her mother had one question after being admitted to intensive care: "She asked if I was coming to vote."
"An hour earlier, we didn't know if she would live or die," Mikulski said. "But she said, 'You go to Washington and save Medicare.' "
According to Mikulski, her mother's condition stabilized yesterday. And like most of the Washington area's members of Congress, Mikulski said she would support a budget plan approved by the House early Monday.
The Senate finally approved the plan last night, with Mikulski and fellow Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) voting for it, as did Virginia Sens. John W. Warner (R) and Charles S. Robb (D).
A few hours later, the House voted overwhelmingly to approve the budget accord.
Earlier, Mikulski demonstrated in an emotional speech on the Senate floor that the rhetoric surrounding the budget plan was becoming increasingly harsh.
Promising that tax increases will fall hardest on the wealthy, Mikulski said, "We're going to go after those who have benefited from this decade of glitz economy. I look forward to voting to raise the tax rate of those who make more than $150,000 a year . . . . It's time that the Wall Street go-go boys start paying their fair share."
Even Robb, who is normally reluctant to criticize politicians of either party, had some strong words for President Bush, calling the stalemate "the ultimate result of an abdication of presidential leadership."
"I am not a regular basher," Robb said, but for Bush "to come out and look like just another of the players is a serious mistake that's bound to have consequences in the long run."
Most Washington area House members, who voted on the budget before dawn yesterday, favored the plan. Supporters included Maryland Democratic Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Tom McMillen and Beverly Byron as well as Republican Reps. Constance A. Morella (Md.) and Frank R. Wolf (Va.). Wolf and Morella split with the GOP majority in part because their districts include large numbers of federal workers.
The three area House members who opposed the plan yesterday include the two with the toughest reelection campaigns: Stan Parris (R-Va.) and Roy P. Dyson (D-Md.). Also voting against the budget was Rep. D. French Slaughter Jr. (R-Va.).
Parris and Dyson, who also opposed last week's budget plan, have said they are reluctant to increase their constituents' taxes.
All the Washington area's House members supported a stopgap funding resolution to reopen government agencies closed by the budget crisis.
Several lawmakers said they are concerned about a political backlash if federal workers are not able to return to their jobs as scheduled today. "They are frustrated and angry," Morella said. "Federal employees are being left out in all this."