CUMBERLAND — Sen. Ben Cardin hears the same message from Marylanders time and time again, and that message is that creating jobs and keeping people with jobs at work needs to be Washington’s No. 1 priority.
“I think it’s the No. 1 issue. Every conversation seems to come around to it,” Cardin said during an interview Friday afternoon with the Times-News. “The most important thing we can do is create jobs,” Cardin said. Achieving that goal is a task that largely hinges on certainty, and there’s a lot of uncertainty in Washington right now, he said.
“The frustration is that there’s a lot of money on the sidelines. Interest (in investing) hasn’t been unleashed yet,” Cardin said.
Part of the reason for the stagnation is the uncertainty surrounding the budget battles and gridlock and partisanship in Washington.
“We need a predictable game plan for the private sector,” the senator said.
Citizens are more interested in getting a budget deal done than in how the deal is achieved. Cardin said he’s willing to compromise to get things done. He’d like to see $1.2 trillion in budget reductions over 10 years to avoid automatic across-the-board cuts.
About one-third of the reductions would come from the defense budget and another third from entitlement reductions; the budget would then be stabilized with an increase in revenue as the third leg of making sure what is spent is paid for, he said.
“We need more revenue; we are at a historically low level of revenues,” Cardin said.
The senator said closing loopholes would be one way to achieve added revenue. Some things need to be fixed, like the alternative minimum tax and health care costs need to be brought under control. Cost control can work. At Johns Hopkins hospital, Cardin said experts told him that if all hospitals followed proper protocols, $300 billion could be saved over 10 years by reducing infection rates.
“We have to get those savings,” he said.
“The good news is we can exceed expectations, because expectations are low,” Cardin said.
Investment is part of bringing stability to the economy and creating jobs, Cardin said.
“This country is falling apart,” he said. The transit system, the railroads, energy and water infrastructures are all in poor shape.
“We’re in danger of not being able to turn on the faucet and have clean drinking water,” he said. Private and public partnerships are key to an economic recovery, he said. Government does have a role in the economy, but the focus should be on programs that give the best return for the money. That includes programs like the North-South highway, Cardin said, which will help Western Maryland’s eco-nomy.
The Appalachian Re-gional Commission brings good results for the money invested, Cardin said. A coalition of legislators fought deep cuts to the ARC, and they may have to fight again.
Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has the ARC on a list of programs he’d like to abolish.
“I’m looking forward to the battle. He should come out and take a look,” Cardin said. “Let me assure you we are going to stop it,” the senator said. Cardin offered an amendment that increased the ARC’s budget from $58 million to $68 million, holding to level funding for the coming fiscal year.
Veterans programs need to be preserved, no matter what other cuts are made. If anything, those services need to be increased, he said.
“I?want to see our military adequately trained and paid,” he said. “The structured life of the military is much different than coming back to civilian life,” he said. Returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have 20 percent unemployment.
“The Department of Defense wants a war machine. That’s their mission,” Cardin said. Unfortunately, when veterans come home, they are sometimes viewed as “yesterday’s news,” he said.
“We have a mission to take care of our veterans,” Cardin said. “We don’t do enough.”
Cardin also said he’ll do everything possible to preserve postal jobs in the area. He’s recently spoken to the postmaster general.
“There are serious funding problems,” he said. Cardin said the U.S. Constitution requires the government to provide a postal service.
“If we’re going to provide it, we’ll need to subsidize it more,” he said. Communities throughout the country are facing situations just like Cumberland, Cardin said, because of proposed cuts in postal services.