MyDD Conversation with MD-Sen Candidate Ben Cardin
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Feb 09, 2006 at 07:24:13 AM EST
This morning, I spoke with Democratic Congressman Ben Cardin (D-MD), one of of two leading contenders for the Democratic senatorial nomination in the Maryland (the other being former Congressman Kweisi Mfume, who we have also invited to speak with MyDD).
Cardin and I spoke about a number of topics, including ethics reform, healthcare, the Murtha resolution, and domestic wiretapping. You can listen to the interview here (warning: a 14.3 megabyte mp3) or read the rush transcript below.
Jonathan Singer: In President Bush's most recent budget, it appears that he has indeed stuck in his plan to partially privatize Social Security. Do you think that the Democrats - you in Congress - will be able to stop it?
Ben Cardin: First, I'm not surprised by what the President has done. He is committed to privatizing Social Security. He's made that clear. This is an area he wants to make progress, and he will not deter. He's going to continue to use every effort to start down the path of privatizing Social Security.
The budget that he has submitted starts to spend taxpayer money - actually goes into debt - in order to start the privatization by setting up these private accounts. I personally do not believe that the Congress will approve it. I think that the President took his case to the American people last year and they resoundingly said no. Whether they were older people or younger people, they understood that you don't strengthen Social Security by taking money out of it.
So I believe that we will be successful, the Democrats, in blocking the efforts in 2006, but that's not the end of it. We still have to stay very strong in our opposition.
Singer: Your competitor on the Republican side of the aisle, Michael Steele, is extremely close to the Bush administration. I know they have raised money for him and cajoled him into the race. To what extent will you try to label him just a stooge for the administration?
Cardin: President Bush said when he came to Maryland to campaign for Lieutenant Governor Steele that he was campaigning for people who agree with his agenda. So I think it's very clear that if Michael Steele were elected to the United States Senate, there would be another vote for George Bush's policies to privatize Social Security; there would be another vote for George Bush's reckless fiscal policies that have accumulated a lot of debt and are sending jobs overseas; there would be another vote for the oil interests - despite what the President says, the energy policy in this country is non-existent; there would be another vote for President Bush's foreign policy. So yes, we will very much be making the issue that Marylanders want a voice in the United States Senate that will stand up to these Bush policies.
Singer: Jack Abramoff. Kind of central thing in this 109th Congress. Although Michael Steele might not be directly connected to him, to what extent will you be bringing up the general scandal that is surrounding the Republican Party these days?
Cardin: I think it is very important that Marylanders send to the United States Senate a person who has a record of principled leadership. I'll be talking about my own record, the fact that I have served on the ethics committee, I was principally responsible for the investigation of Newt Gingrich, that I was involved in developing the ethics rules for the Maryland General Assembly, and that I do think you want someone in the United States Senate who understands that we need to change the basic attitude in Washington between lobbyist and lawmaker.
Singer: Now let's look at something specific to your state of Maryland. Your state legislature enacted a plan that would mandate that large companies, like Wall Mart, provide at least some healthcare benefits, either directly to workers or through contributions to the state program. Should Congress look at a similar plan?
Cardin: Congress should pass a program that provides for universal health insurance coverage.
It is not acceptable for us to have 45 to 47 million Americans without health insurance. It's not fair for those who have health insurance to pay for those who do not have health insurance. That was the frustration in Maryland, where you had companies that were not only paying for their own employees but literally paying for their competitors' employees because of the extra cost for the uninsured.
So the Congress should pass legislation that guarantees that every person in this country has health insurance, and it's in every one of our interests that that be done.
Singer: I'd actually like to go back to ethics for a second.
Singer: There's something in The Hill newspaper this morning you may not have seen already. Congressman David Dreier [R-CA] originally in 1997 pushed a plan that would use private citizens as independent investigators for the House ethics committee. Now that Barack Obama is in favor of such a plan, Dreier is no longer. Do you think that there needs to be some outside oversight to both the House and the Senate ethics, or do you think that's a plan that no longer worthy of discussion.
Cardin: I think we need to open up the ethics process internally. Under the constitution, the legislature must judge its own members, the Congress must judge its own members. But I do think we should allow more outside help in the way that we review ethics complaints.
For example, I chaired the ethics commission that brought in the rules that we operate in Congress, and one of our major recommendations was not accepted: to allow outside groups to bring a complaint.
So I do think that it's important for us to open up the process. Whether it's the Obama recommendation or whether to allow outside groups to initiate complaints, I think it's important that we make the system more available for the public to initiate complaints.
Singer: Now let's shift over to some more international issues. Your colleague John Murtha put forward a plan to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by the end of the year, placing them in Kuwait so that they would be nearby in case of emergency. What do you think of this plan?
Cardin: Clearly, we need a plan to get our troops home from Iraq, quickly and safely, and this administration has not come forward with a workable plan for removal of our troops.
Clearly, the policies that this administration has pursued have not been effective, and we need to energize the international community to assume a greater responsibility in Iraq, and we're not going to be able to do that until we have a game plan that involves our troops being removed.
Singer: There has been some investigation into President Bush's, the administration's domestic wiretapping program. [Rep.] Heather Wilson [R-NM] now is at least talking about investigations in the House. How far does this need to go for Congress to be apprised of the program?
Cardin: I personally believe the President has violated law with the NSA intercepts by not seeking court supervision. I think that Congress has a principal responsibility in its oversight function to do an independent investigation of this issue and let the facts lead where they may. But it's got to be thorough, it's got to be independent, and it has to be able to go wherever it needs to in order to make sure that the laws of this country are adhered to.
Singer: During World War II, Harry Truman led a committee that investigated war profiteering, finding billions of dollars in profiteering, indeed. Congress seems to be in a different mindset these days, with your disgraced colleague [former-Rep.] Randy "Duke" Cunningham [R-CA] in fact putting in war profiteering into legislation. Can the trend be reversed? Can there be another Harry Truman that emerges?
Cardin: Once again, a principal responsibility of Congress is oversight: to make sure that there are not abuses in the Executive branch, to make sure that there are not abuses in the private sector, that, when we are at war, we want to make sure that sacrifices are fairly shared, that there are not profits made from either war or natural disaster - what happened in Hurricane Katrina is another example of an area that needs to be reviewed.
Yes. I think that first it starts with Congressional investigations that are independent that look at the profits were made during this war in Iraq and our war against terror, and look at the profits that were made during Katrina and report back to Congress and the American people so that the appropriate laws are adhered to, but also that if there are new laws that are needed, Congress has an opportunity to act.
But I must point out this Congress under Republican leadership is not doing it and won't do it. There's no interest in this Congress, which is extremely disappointing. We've been pointing this out, and I think the Republican leadership needs to be held accountable.
Singer: You have, I would imagine, taken trips in the past - educational trips - whether they are government-funded or privately-funded, as have most members of Congress. Is it possible to separate truly educational trips from the types of trips, say going and playing golf at St. Andrews in Scotland?
Cardin: It first starts with individual judgment. A Member should not go on a trip paid for by third parties unless that trip will further that Congressman's responsibilities in Congress. So therefore these educational seminars that we participate in by non-profit groups that give us a chance to focus on important issues with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle are important opportunities, because we get to meet with some of the brightest minds in the world and we have a chance to try to talk out issues and come up with workable solutions. But when you have special interests that are paying for trips that are more social than they are business, the individual legislator shouldn't participate in that. But I'm afraid that we need to change the rules to make it clear that we won't tolerate that.
So yes, it is possible to draw a line, but unfortunately that line will have to be a lot tighter now as a result of the abuses, and it's very possible that some worthwhile trips will have to be sacrificed in order to make it clear that we can't tolerate special interests taking Members of Congress to these social trips rather than business trips.
Singer: Just one final question... I don't think the progressive blogosphere has paid as much attention to Maryland as other Senate races. What would you like to say to the members of the progressive blogosphere to get them more involved in the campaign?
Cardin: Don't take Maryland for granted. Maryland, I think most people believe, is a good blue state, but remember we have a Republican Governor, and that this election, the Republicans nationally are going to pour a lot of interest in trying to win this seat. And clearly, the Republican nominee will be a rubber stamp for George Bush.
The Democrats need to be unified, need to be focused on this seat, so at the end of the day, Maryland is on the Democratic side of the Senate and adds to the momentum nationally of changing the direction of the United States Senate.
Look at the issues here in Maryland. We're going to have a candidate running on the Republican side who's going to try to reinvent himself, and we have to make sure that people understand what's at stake in the Maryland Senate race. So therefore I would just urge people to stay tuned and get involved. We need your help.
Singer: And could you speak specifically to the primary as well, because it is a contested primary.
Cardin: The primary is seven weeks before the general. And if we all sit back and don't do anything and say we'll wait until the Democrats figure out their primary before we get involved in Maryland, there's a much better chance that Michael Steele will be the next United States Senator.
The Republicans are working right now. They know who their nominee is and they're getting involved well before the primary.
Democrats, and those who believe in progressive causes, need to be united earlier. We need to be smarter in the way we run campaigns.
In the state of Maryland, we've organized our campaign -I'm only talking about my campaign, because there's a lot of friends that I know that are running in the primary, and they're good people - but we've organized a campaign that will not only win the primary but will win the general.
We have campaign organizations in every part of Maryland, we have support in every part of Maryland. We not only do extremely well in the base areas, we also do well in the purple areas of Maryland, and we'll do more competitively in the red areas. We also have raised money, we have put together the campaign team, and I think any objective observer who looks at the primary in Maryland knows that I am the strongest candidate and I stand by my record of accomplishment.
And I do think it's important to take a side early in the Maryland election and not wait until the primaries are over, because if we do, then we give the Republicans a much better chance of winning the seat.
Singer: Terrific. Thank you so much for your time and good luck with your campaign.
Cardin: Thank you.
[THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.]