New team sets a course

The Baltimore Sun

Bleary-eyed from a late night celebrating victory in the U.S. Senate race - followed by an early morning on the Internet to make sure the numbers would hold up - U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin met yesterday with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski to plot out their first 100 days together in Washington.

Still unsure whether they would be joining a new Democratic majority in the Senate come January or sharing power with Republicans, the veteran legislators spoke of reaching across party lines to improve education, guarantee access to health care and chart a new course in Iraq.

"One message I heard from voters throughout the state, they said, 'Look, we want change, but we want you to work to get the problems solved,'" Cardin said outside Mikulski's office in Fells Point.

"Now we need to work together," he said. "Democrats, Republicans, we need to work with the White House, we need to get things done for the people of this country."

The 10-term congressman from Baltimore County spoke shortly before his appeal to bipartisanship was matched yesterday by President Bush, who said, "The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in an ethical manner and work together to address the challenges facing our nation."

Cardin, 63, will succeed Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who announced last year that he would retire in January after 30 years in the upper chamber.

He and Mikulski breakfasted yesterday at Jimmy's Restaurant on South Broadway. Speaking to reporters after, Cardin repeated campaign pledges to expand access to education and health care, promote energy independence and balance the federal budget. And he addressed Iraq, calling it the "dominating issue around the nation."

"Americans understand that we're in the middle of a civil war," he said. "They understand that we need to change the direction in Iraq. They want an honorable way for America to complete its mission in Iraq and bring our troops home. And I can tell you that I'm going to be fighting for that, to make sure that we do bring about a different policy in Iraq."

He spoke of energizing the international community to help broker cease-fires and beginning to withdraw U.S. troops.

Mikulski, now in her fourth term, will become the head of the Maryland delegation in Congress. She predicted a smooth transition for Cardin from the House of Representatives to the Senate.

"I'll tell you what I'm excited about, is that after Ben is sworn in, that we put our Maryland jerseys on, and we're on the floor of the United States Senate, I can see it, within that first 100 days, the Cardin amendment to change the Medicare prescription drug benefit to close the coverage gap, and I'll be backing that Cardin amendment," she said.

"I'll be over there working to double the Pell grants so that our kids can afford higher education. Ben will be my backup on that. Then we'll go down together working with our Democratic leadership on really trying to create an economy where we're keeping jobs in this country."

Mikulski, the dean of the Senate women, also said she was excited by the election of Democrats Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. And she quipped that those who had predicted that Maryland was becoming a red state were now "red in the face."

Still, she said, "when the Democrats go in, we don't seek revenge. We seek results."

Cardin expressed hope that Bush would reach out to Democrats.

"Look, we need to deal with the problems," he said. "People don't have health insurance. Our dependency on foreign oil. Our environmental risks are there. What's happening in Iraq.

"I would hope that he would sit down and listen and work together and let's come up with an agenda that's not the president's agenda, not any one senator's agenda. Let's come forward with an agenda for the American people."

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