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Cardin calls for a 'no rules' debate

August 13, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

When U.S. Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-3rd, came to town in May, he emphasized his experience and what he's done in the past. This week, Cardin talked about how he wants to use what he's learned in the U.S. Senate.

Cardin, along with more than a dozen other Democrats, is running for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

After Cardin told me he'd criss-crossed Maryland to listen to voters, I asked him what they were telling him.

"People are really worried. They're concerned about whether they're going to be able to maintain their standard of living," he said.

As gasoline prices rise, more and more jobs are being eliminated or sent overseas, Cardin said.

"We've got to change the direction of America," he said. The U.S. is on the wrong track, he said, when "we're giving tax breaks to people who don't need it and raising the cost of going to college."


Cardin also said the nation's trade policy is "totally out of control" because the Bush administration won't take on those nations that blatantly violate international agreements.

The worst offender? China, said Cardin.

The Chinese leaders are deliberately holding down the standard of living in their country to make their products more price-competitive here, Cardin said.

Just as bad, he said, is the fact that Chinese companies steal American industrial designs - intellectual property - in violation of international agreements.

"They're doing it and we're not doing much about it," he said.

Cardin said he's familiar with trade issues because he's one of the senior Democrats on House committees that deal with trade. As such, he said, he meets regularly with legislators from other countries.

Asked what they tell him, Cardin said "they talk most frequently about Iraq."

Cardin, who said he voted against the war four years ago, said that "staying the course" as President Bush calls for would be a mistake.

U.S. soldiers are the best in the world, Cardin said, but they are "not policemen and should not be asked to sit there and do that job."

It's time for the Iraqis to begin taking over some of those duties, so that U.S. troops can begin rotating home, starting with the National Guard, which Cardin said should never have been sent there in the first place.

Nevertheless, Cardin said he did not favor a timetable for withdrawal, because that would take commanders in the field out of the loop. The Bush administration has fouled up the war by not following commanders' recommendations, he said.

Despite his opposition to the war, Cardin said he speaks regularly to soldiers and their families.

"I'm very proud of our soldiers. They're incredible young men and women," he said.

"To show that, the first thing we need to do is respect out veterans and we're not doing that now," Cardin said, adding that keeping U.S. promises for veterans' health care would be the way to start.

On other issues, Cardin took the following stands:

On the No Child Left Behind Act, he said the federal government must provide more money for what he called "an unfunded federal mandate."

On health care, Cardin proposes a federal version of the new health-care system in Massachusetts. In his view, everyone who can afford it should be required to have health insurance.

To cover the costs of a new system, Cardin said he would take on the pharmaceutical companies and make it easier for those who need nursing care to get it in their own homes, instead of forcing them into nursing homes, which are more expensive.

Cardin, who said he got to know Western Maryland as speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, said he would help with local priorities such as the renaissance of Hagerstown, the redevelopment of Fort Ritchie and the upgrade of Interstate 81.

Asked about the Maryland Republican Party's recent release that took him to task for criticizing Wal-Mart even though he's taken a total of $4,000 from their PAC in the past and even shopped there, Cardin bristled.

He said he favors public financing of campaigns to avoid the fundraising that goes on. The $145 purchase there in 2003 was actually a reimbursement to a campaign worker for supplies purchased there.

Cardin called the release a "cheap shot" which he said was taken to distract voters from the issues such as health care, which he said, "they don't have an answer for."

Would he debate Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the likely Republican nominee?

"Any time, any place. Just set up a television camera and let us talk with no ground rules, just reporters asking questions," he said.

That's one event I'd like to see, although I doubt Steele's campaign people would OK a no-holds-barred format. But I told Cardin I would see what could be arranged. Stay tuned.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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