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Maryland Senate - Election Guide 2012

September 7, 2012

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Sen. Ben Cardin, the Democratic incumbent and the state's junior senator, is seeking a second term.


Ben Cardin, Democrat (incumbent)

As you know, the Bush-era income tax cuts will expire at the end of this year. Do you support extending the cuts for all income levels, only on individual income under $200,000 (under $250,000 for families), or not at all? If you support an extension of some kind, should it be paid for?

I support extending the tax cuts for families making under $250,000. I am very concerned about the damage to the economy that could be caused by the multiple policy changes scheduled to occur in December - the end of the Bush-era income tax cuts, the end of the payroll tax holiday, and the consequences of the $1.2 trillion across-the-board sequestration. Therefore, I have continuously advocated for a comprehensive approach or so-called "grand bargain" that would include a plan to balance the budget and put our economy on the path to growth.

For a more long-term solution, I also am committed to using my position on the Senate Finance Committee to help enact comprehensive tax reform that removes tax loopholes and unfair benefits, and reduces tax rates. American families and businesses need the certainty and predictability of a more permanent tax code, rather than one that expires every year. As part of tax reform, I would like to put in place a permanent code that allows people and businesses to plan and make long-term decisions knowing the tax rules won't change on them at the end of the year.


Is there any circumstance in which you would support extending a pay freeze on federal employees and/or requiring current federal employees to contribute more to their retirement plans? Please explain.

Hard-working federal employees have already contributed to deficit reduction and stand ready to participate in a credible, balanced approach to deal with our budget deficit. They made a $60 billion contribution to deficit reduction through the current two-year pay freeze and they continue to be asked to do more for the American people with fewer resources. As a member of the conference committee that worked to extend the payroll tax holiday, I fought side-by-side with fellow Marylander Rep. Chris Van Hollen to remove provisions that were in the House bill that would have increased pension contributions for current federal workers, reduced a general reduction in pension benefits for federal workers, and added an additional year of a pay freeze. I voted against the final legislation because it chipped away at benefits for future federal workers, harming our ability to attract the best and brightest to public service and putting us on a slippery slope for future cuts to pay or benefits. There are some lawmakers who have decided to target federal workers as scapegoats for our fiscal mess and I will not support such actions.


The Congressional Budget Office projects spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other government health programs will more than double as a share of the nation's economy by 2037. What specific changes would you propose to reduce Medicare costs?

We need to reduce the projected cost of Medicare by reducing the growth rate of health care costs. We took an important step in this direction with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. The law invests in prevention, wellness, coordinated care, universal coverage and health technology - all of which will reduce the growth rate of health care costs - and it extends the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 12 years.

Analyses of Medicare data have shown that the sickest 10 percent of beneficiaries account for 70 percent of program spending. To bring down these costs, we must address chronic diseases and reduce the fragmentation of our system through delivery system reforms. The ACA ensures free coverage of proven preventive services, such as colorectal cancer screening, for seniors and people in commercial health insurance plans so that patients can identify risk factors and prevent conditions from developing into more serious, more costly diseases. The law also increases the financial incentives that employers can use to encourage workers' participation in wellness programs. It also establishes the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to help the Administration test new approaches to cost savings, such as moving away from a reimbursement system that pays per procedure and toward one that pays for episodes of care and rewards quality.

In our own state, CareFirst Blue Cross BlueShield's Patient Centered Medical Home project has already lowered costs for chronic disease patients in this region's under-65 population by prioritizing primary care, and because of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare beneficiaries will benefit from this model. Additionally, the law gives financial help to providers to implement electronic health records - an initiative that will reduce duplication of tests overall and speed lifesaving care in hospital emergency rooms. In addition, we should allow Medicare to use the purchasing power of the federal government, as the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs already do, to negotiate lower prices of prescription drugs for Medicare Part D. Finally, as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I am working with my colleagues to implement accountable delivery system reforms so they will be recognized by our budget rules as saving costs.


Would you support increased federal spending on highways and other infrastructure as a way to boost the construction industry? If so, how would you pay for it?

I am a strong supporter of federal investments in infrastructure. The Conference of Mayors reports that $1 spent on public infrastructure results in $6.35 in economic growth for the nation. The National Association of Utility Contractors reports that every $1 billion in spending on water infrastructure results in at least 26,000 jobs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided a major infusion of funding for aviation; road and rail transportation; water infrastructure; schools; and clean energy projects. I pressed for inclusion of more investments in infrastructure during consideration of the Recovery Act, and those efforts were rewarded when the water infrastructure component was added, pumping $6 billion into the economy at a critical moment. ARRA created millions of jobs, but the need is ongoing. I worked to improve and voted for the Transportation bill recently approved by Congress. The legislation will preserve 10,000 Maryland transportation jobs and create thousands more. Last Congress, I was the lead author of legislation to significantly expand water infrastructure grants to states - a multi-billion dollar jobs-generator.

I would support robust transportation funding by supplementing the current transportation taxes with a carbon tax that would not only help fund transportation infrastructure but would help us with energy security and reducing greenhouse gas pollution.


Would you support U.S. military involvement in Iran if there were evidence that it was close to developing a nuclear weapon?

An Iran with nuclear weapons would be a "game changer" in the Middle East and, indeed, throughout the world. An undeniable threat to Israel and the United States, an Iran with nuclear weapons cannot become a reality.

I would need to review the specific evidence available, the likelihood of effective results and the degree of international support, before making a judgment on U.S. military involvement, but all options should be open. We must do all in our power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities.

My primary goal has been to push for the continuation of strong sanctions and increased diplomatic isolation. I support President Obama's policy toward Iran, unifying the international community to isolate the regime so it cannot follow through on its dangerous threats and it gives up its ambition to be a nuclear weapon state, contrary to its international commitments.


Describe a specific policy you would pursue in Congress that would have support from members of the opposite party.

I stand up for my Democratic values, but I believe that we can come together to find common ground on many issues that impact our economy, our health, our environment and our national security. I have a record of success working across party lines and will continue to reach out to Republican lawmakers, including:


I am working with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to build support for a Simpson-Bowles type of bipartisan, balanced plan to bring our budget into better balance. A similar effort needs to be made to enact an energy policy for America that provides for energy security, a better economy, and a friendly impact on our environment.



Daniel John Bongino, Republican

As you know, the Bush-era income tax cuts will expire at the end of this year. Do you support extending the cuts for all income levels, only on individual income under $200,000 (under $250,000 for families), or not at all? If you support an extension of some kind, should it be paid for?

We need outsiders to the Washington political process who will commit to pro-growth, common sense tax reforms and stop playing political games with the money of hard working American families. Current income tax rates should be extended across the board and we should look for common sense spending cuts to balance our budget. We can no longer tolerate the negative impact on job growth being caused by the current economic uncertainty.


Is there any circumstance in which you would support extending a pay freeze on federal employees and/or requiring current federal employees to contribute more to their retirement plans? Please explain.

I am honored to have been a former federal employee with the United States Secret Service. Our federal work force is both dedicated and hard working. We should do everything possible to honor their current contracts and fulfill the promises that were made to them. Preserving jobs is preferred but efficiencies must be sought or our federal employees will be endangered by the coming fiscal crisis.


The Congressional Budget Office projects spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other government health programs will more than double as a share of the nation's economy by 2037. What specific changes would you propose to reduce Medicare costs?

I do not support mandatory changes to Social Security or Medicare for persons 55 years or older. The full faith and credit of our government must mean something to our seniors. We must look at proven, bi-partisan solutions such as block granting Medicaid funding to the states and making available to our seniors, via premium support, the same insurance plans our members of Congress have access to. There is wide, bi-partisan agreement on common sense Social Security reforms to preserve the system such as means testing of benefits and longevity indexing.


Would you support increased federal spending on highways and other infrastructure as a way to boost the construction industry? If so, how would you pay for it?

We must re-prioritize the spending of scarce tax dollars and eliminate projects that are nothing more than just wasteful political earmarks. In doing so, we can then properly fund projects where federal funding is required.


Would you support U.S. military involvement in Iran if there were evidence that it was close to developing a nuclear weapon?

Unfortunately, if Iran forgoes reason and demonstrates the clear intention and capability of developing nuclear weapons, I would, as a matter of national security, support military action to intervene. Iran directs its threats at the United States as often as it does towards Israel. The potential for terrorist acts directed against the citizens of the United States involving nuclear materials or explosives is a risk that I am not willing to accept.


Describe a specific policy you would pursue in Congress that would have support from members of the opposite party.

I would not have been able to rise above the cycle of inner city poverty if it were not for the education that I received from outside the broken public school system that existed in my neighborhood. I would serve as an outspoken advocate for the re-allocation of Department of Education funding for the creation of means tested "Parental Choice" programs for failing inner city school districts. I know there are members of the opposing party that have examined the irrefutable data proving parent choice works. I can't see how anyone can condemn a child to a future of certain failure when options are available requiring nothing more than the political will to enact them.





Dean Ahmad, Libertarian

As you know, the Bush-era income tax cuts will expire at the end of this year. Do you support extending the cuts for all income levels, only on individual income under $200,000 (under $250,000 for families), or not at all? If you support an extension of some kind, should it be paid for?

All cuts should be extended, but spending must be cut by an even greater amount to "pay for" the cuts. Additional tax reform must include replacing harmful taxes that penalize productivity, hinder job creation and unfairly fall heaviest on the poor through the taxation of essential consumer goods.


Is there any circumstance in which you would support extending a pay freeze on federal employees and/or requiring current federal employees to contribute more to their retirement plans? Please explain.

I believe a pay freeze for federal employees and a restructuring of the retirement plans is necessary until we can get spending under control. Why should federal employees be exempt from the economic sacrifices the general public must bear?


The Congressional Budget Office projects spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other government health programs will more than double as a share of the nation's economy by 2037. What specific changes would you propose to reduce Medicare costs?

Managing health care costs is the most difficult single problem confronting public policy, and Medicare is the single most difficult part of the problem. Unfortunately, the enormous pilfering of the wages of seniors now on Medicare or about to go on it over the years has created an unfunded debt that prevents us from turning to a market solution in any simple manner. Instead, we must implement a whole series of reforms that we can only pray will, together, make this problem somewhat less overwhelming.

Medicare is such a royal failure at controlling costs because it is a single payer system. We must devise reforms that will allow us to transition to a fee for service system in the long run, while emulating a fee for service system in the short run. Details must be worked out, but the following elements are essential: young people must be given the option of adopting an alternative health plan, perhaps modeled on the congressional system as proposed by Dr. Rand Paul. A sliding scale of means tested co-payments and caps must be implemented both to reduce current expenditures and to give consumers the incentive to comparison shop and suppliers the incentive to complete on price and quality of service. For example, millionaires could be required to pay full premiums and have high deductibles. The system must focus on value of the care provided rather than the volume of care provided. Restrictions that now drive physicians away from treating Medicare patients need to be reformed. Laws that prohibit physicians from giving free or discounted treatments to the poor and needy must be reformed.


Would you support increased federal spending on highways and other infrastructure as a way to boost the construction industry? If so, how would you pay for it?

No. Any spending on infrastructure must be based on the economic need for the infrastructure and not on the desire to subsidize the construction industry at the expense of other sectors of the economy.


Would you support U.S. military involvement in Iran if there were evidence that it was close to developing a nuclear weapon?

Nearness to a nuclear weapon is not a just cause for military intervention. If it were we would be at war with Israel, Pakistan, India, Russia, China, and France, among others. The clearly stated position of Iran's supreme leader has made it clear that negotiations to get Iran to comply with IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspections would be successful if the United States dropped its unreasonable demands that Iran abandon its right to medical grade uranium. The phrase "close to developing a nuclear weapon" is a mischievous code meant to deprive Iran of its right to radioactive medicine as a pretext for a war that would be a disaster for the region and for the economy of the United States.


Describe a specific policy you would pursue in Congress that would have support from members of the opposite party.

I have two parties in opposition. I would try to get the Democrats to support my agenda to end the wars and promote civil liberties while trying to get the Republicans to support needed spending cuts and fiscal responsibility. Being the swing vote and thus balance of power on these issues means I would have a great opportunity to get many things accomplished.





Rob Sobhani, Independent

As you know, the Bush-era income tax cuts will expire at the end of this year. Do you support extending the cuts for all income levels, only on individual income under $200,000 (under $250,000 for families), or not at all? If you support an extension of some kind, should it be paid for?

I oppose extending the tax cuts, not because I think it would make the system more fair — it won't — but because this issue is being used to delay the real reform our tax code so desperately needs. Our economy is very near a crisis. And our tax system is a big part of the problem. Rather than address that problem in a meaningful way, the parties fight and bicker, point fingers and find blame. They cater to special interests for campaign contributions. In turn, special interests get generous tax advantages over the rest of us. It's a failed system and only a fair, simple flat tax will finally drain the swamp. We can and should protect mortgage interest deductions and charitable contributions. But we must get rid of the loopholes, corporate welfare and special interest cronyism. A fair and simple tax code will incentivize growth, encourage small business, and strengthen the economic conditions of families. There are good people in both political parties, but they're trapped in a system that doesn't work. As an Independent, I'm convinced I'll be able to bridge the gap and bring fair-minded people together to clean up our tax system and restore economic growth to Maryland and America.


Is there any circumstance in which you would support extending a pay freeze on federal employees and/or requiring current federal employees to contribute more to their retirement plans? Please explain.

We should not balance the budget on the backs of federal employees — that is not leadership. Moreover, the savings the federal government would achieve by continuing its salary freeze or asking more of a contribution from employees would be small in comparison to the savings we can achieve by identifying wasteful and ineffective programs. Our goal needs to be reducing the current debt to GDP ratio, and this will require some tough decisions at a broader level.


The Congressional Budget Office projects spending on Medicare, Medicaid and other government health programs will more than double as a share of the nation's economy by 2037. What specific changes would you propose to reduce Medicare costs?

Part of being honest with the American people is also related to government funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which today are woefully mismanaged at least partly as a result of a failed political system that can only find fault and cast blame. At the rate these programs are rising in cost, our country will face bankruptcy if we don't act. First and foremost, it's important we do nothing to reduce or hurt benefits for existing and near-term recipients. But real reform must come and must look beyond Medicare at the entire health care system. We can make health care more competitive, give patients more choices, and assure greater availability and higher quality. But we can't do it if we're not willing to consider new ideas. I support a serious, non-partisan discussion about health care. We've made a promise to this country's seniors, a promise that the money they've put in to these systems their whole lives will be there for them when they need it. Living up to that promise in a fashion that is also sustainable for our budget has to be our main priority not only as politicians but as Americans.


Would you support increased federal spending on highways and other infrastructure as a way to boost the construction industry? If so, how would you pay for it?

A solid infrastructure system in which both people and goods can move with ease across the country is a cornerstone of economic development. I believe that infrastructure should be prioritized, but I also feel that federal spending is not always the most efficient manner in doing so. One of my main campaign promises is a massive $3 billion expansion of the north-south corridor along Interstate 95 and the I-495 and I-695 beltways. I believe we can attract private investment both domestically and internationally to fund most or all of this expansion. Experts suggest this plan will create at least 15,000 jobs per $1 billion in funds, but highway construction jobs are only the beginning. Major public works like these both spur development in a lagging industry like construction, and allow for a reduction in federal infrastructure expenses.


Would you support U.S. military involvement in Iran if there were evidence that it was close to developing a nuclear weapon?

I oppose U.S. military involvement in Iran. The best guarantee of our national security interests and of Israel's security is a free and democratic Iran — that should be the goal. A free and democratic Iran would also have no need of nuclear weapons.


Describe a specific policy you would pursue in Congress that would have support from members of the opposite party.

There are good people in both parties. But they're trapped in a system that forces them to think inside a very narrow ideological box. As an Independent, I'm convinced I can bridge the gap and bring well-intentioned men and women from both parties together to solve problems. We have no choice. Time is running out for our economy if we don't act now. My number one priority is job creation; it strikes me as illogical that either party would stand in the way of that goal, but let's see if either tries. As one specific example, we can easily find ways to enhance something Maryland already does well — medical treatment and research. I will find $500 million in private funds from companies, charitable groups and philanthropists to make Maryland the world capital for cancer and Alzheimer's research and treatment. And if I don't, I've already signed a pledge I won't run for reelection. That's only one of many ideas my campaign is talking about. I'll also find more than $1 billion worth of exports for Maryland products, which will create at least 7,000 new jobs. And again, if I can't or don't do it, my pledge assures I won't run for re-election. New approaches, working with others, and holding them and myself accountable is how we'll move forward to solve our problems. By contrast, the political status quo assures more of what we already have — squabbling, infighting, and excuses for why our economy continues to sink.