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Bartlett defends Gingrich on ethics

March 28, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett Thursday called for tax reform, defended House Speaker Newt Gingrich and pledged to help residents on a number of local matters during a series of citizens meetings throughout the county.

The 6th District Republican who represents Western Maryland made stops in Smithsburg, Sharpsburg, Hancock, Maugansville and Hagerstown.

In Sharpsburg, 13 residents grilled him on a variety of topics. George Plane said he was concerned by recent statements Gingrich made suggesting that tax cuts be delayed until the budget is balanced.

"My biggest concern is the Republican leadership does not look like it's leading and they're sure backpedaling on tax relief," he said.

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Bartlett accused the media of misrepresenting Gingrich's intention, which he said is to "avoid that kind of onslaught from the other side" that comes when tax cuts are mentioned.

"Newt never meant that we weren't going to have tax cuts," he said.

In an interview, Bartlett also dismissed criticisms of the speaker by Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., and other Republicans. He said much of Gingrich's trouble stems from inaccurate reporting of ethics complaints lodged at him.

He said false information provided to the ethics committee by Gingrich was the result of mistakes by his lawyer.

"I've signed a lot of papers I didn't read. I wouldn't have understood the legalese anyway," he said. "That's why you hire a lawyer."

Bartlett also called for tax reform. He said he was leaning toward a consumption tax that could replace the IRS. He said such a tax should exempt basic items so it would not cause undue harm to poor people.

"I would not tax potatoes, but I would tax potato chips," he said.

Bartlett also promised to address concerns of several residents who live across from Antietam National Battlefield along Md. 65. The Conservation Fund, a private group that promotes open space, owns several acres behind their homes.

The residents' fear is that the fund will give the land to the battlefield, which in turn will come after their land, said Suzanne Lushbaugh, who lives in one of the houses.

Bartlett said he favors a proposal to turn the land over to Maryland's Project Open Space program. He said he would fight any House legislation to force the National Park Service to accept the land, and said he would guard against a Senate bill as well.

"Something that small, if a senator wants it in, it will go sailing through," Bartlett said. "So we'll have to be vigilant."

Lushbaugh said she was pleased.

"I think that we're finally getting someplace," she said.

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