EASTON, Md, April 18, 2011 — Just minutes before Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) headed to the Senate floor last Thursday to vote on the 2011 budget, which passed 81-19, I sat down with him in his office to talk about the upcoming vote, Congressman Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal, and our nation’s future. America’s finances are Senator Cardin’s passion. He sits on the Senate Budget Committee, Finance Committee, and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.
?A realist, Senator Cardin recognizes that reaching a compromise with the Republicans on the 2012 budget is a huge challenge, but one that he thinks is doable, thanks not only to the bi-partisan Debt Commission’s recommendations but because of the work of the Gang of Six.
Keep Your Eye on the Gang of Six
If you haven’t heard of the Gang of Six, start paying attention because they could well be the lynchpin to the 2012 budget bill having any chance to pass this fall.
The group consists of Democratic Senators Kent Conrad, (D-N.D.), as its chair, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Republican Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), all working behind the scenes to strike a deal on how to rein in the country’s soaring deficit.
Senator Cardin himself is one of the 64 Senators (32 from each party) who signed a letter in March urging President Obama to “engage in a broader discussion about a comprehensive deficit-reduction package,” including taxes and entitlement reform.
Ryan’s Proposal Is Not Credible
However, Senator Cardin has little patience for Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget reform, outlined in “The Path to Prosperity,” labeling it “not a credible plan.”
It did pass the House on Friday, cutting $6.2 trillion dollars over the next ten years (AP), completely revamping Medicare and Medicaid, and cutting taxes for high income earners and corporations.
The bill now moves to the Democratic controlled Senate, where it is basically considered DOA.
Senator Cardin explains that cutting taxes while destroying Medicare is not the way to prosperity. Instead, America needs to “invest in the future: our children, technology, infrastructure.” Otherwise “we won’t be the competitive nation we need to be.”
Plus the wealthiest need to “pony up” as a matter of fairness and “be part of the solution.” Unlike Congressman Ryan, the Senator believes there should be no reduction in the tax rate for the richest Americans, and the Bush tax cuts, which will end in 2012, cannot be allowed to continue.
Why the Bush Tax Cuts Can’t Just Expire
Some people say just let the Bush tax cuts run out, but Senator Cardin points out that Congress cannot allow that because tax cuts for the Middle Class are in there as well.
So Congress in 2012, an election year, is going to have grapple with raising taxes, even though it would affect only the richest of the richest.
“It’s scandalous to say we’re solving our budget problems by giving wealthy people more tax breaks.”
Rather he believes Congress should use this opportunity to tackle the debt, using the bi-partisan Debt Commission’s report as a guideline.
However, it will not be an easy sell, he notes, with the Tea Party pushing its own agenda. “It will be a challenge for Speaker [John] Boehner.”
The Senator also repudiates Ryan’s Medicare solution, which basically privatizes Medicare with vouchers, explaining that the Health Care Reform bill (Affordable Care for All) will take care of Medicare expenditures as it brings down the $1.5 trillion in health costs over the next twenty years.
Not to Raise the Debt Ceiling Is to Go Nuclear
Meanwhile, just over the horizon looms the upcoming vote to raise the debt ceiling. It should be raised by May 16th, and Congress does have wiggle room, but not much. Tea Party stalwarts have thundered they will not vote for it unless they get what they want.
To miss the deadline is to launch “a nuclear option,” Senator Cardin angrily explains. It would demolish “the full faith and credit of our government.”
What does that mean for you and me? Interest rates would take off, escalating the cost of borrowing, credit cards, mortgages, and consumer goods.
“It would be more devastating than this past recession. And it would affect the global economy.”
Yet there are Tea Party and Right wing activists, who are playing chicken with the debt ceiling, demanding something in return for passing it. Such threats can actually make Wall Street wobbly.
As the Senator forcefully explains, “It would be folly to use anything not to pass it. Pure folly.”
Yet There’s Room for Some Optimism
Nevertheless, Senator Cardin remains optimistic that the debt ceiling will pass while acknowledging that the 2012 budget battle will be harder.
He believes that while there will be a vigorous debate on the next budget, it will pass without shutting down the government, thanks to the efforts of Senators of good will.
Even while Congress confronts the towering questions of deficits and debts, jobs still remain an important goal for Democrats.
“When Obama came in, there was a 700,000 job loss each month. Now we are creating 250,000 jobs a month because we have helped small businesses, the source of job creation.”
Senator Cardin wonders why the House GOP recently voted to cut $1.6 billion from NIH (National Institute of Health), where bio-medical research is done. To do so, he points out, is to cut jobs.
Fortunately, the Senate Democrats got rid of that draconian cut. But it is that mentality that bothers him about Republicans.
The Senator champions putting America’s interests first, saying the way to posterity is to invest in tomorrow. And, yes, while we need “a lean and efficient government,” to starve government programs is to jeopardize our very future.