The Baltimore Sun

Tomorrow's primary elections in Ohio and Texas could be decisive in determining who will be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. The following excerpts are taken from phone interviews that the Editorial Board of The Sun conducted with Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama.

How would you reinvigorate federal assistance to American cities?

I have been promoting a new city agenda because I want to get back to doing what can work again.

Partly, we have to begin to reconstitute the programs that work, some of which are already there but not being funded adequately - like [Community Development Block Grants] and others I would like to see us start bringing back, like the COPS program. Community policing made a huge difference in the quality of life.

I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for green-collar jobs in the inner city. I got a program adopted in the latest energy bill that really begins to focus on how we train people to insulate and weatherize homes, install solar panels. I believe that we can put together probably 5 million jobs over the next 10 years, and I want to focus on underserved urban and rural areas to try to begin that process.

In my energy plan, I have money for weatherizing 20 million homes. A lot of our older homes are found in older cities like Baltimore. I also think that investments in new renewable energy would be a big boost to the economy in cities like Baltimore.

Baltimore has done a lot with your waterfront and the additions that have been made over the last decade, but we've got to do more to rebuild the infrastructure in our older cities. We're losing ground in sewer and water, bridges, tunnels, roads, and we need a "Rebuild America" program. If we put people to work with green-collar jobs if we invested in the kind of infrastructure improvements that are necessary, we would have a good base to really start attacking our urban cores. And if we got serious about transportation, particularly public transportation, I think it could make a big difference.

Given our commitment in Iraq and the money being spent there - and I believe you support pay-as-you-go - how would we fund all those kinds of things?

Well, from several different sources. You know, everything that I have proposed in my campaign I tell you how I would pay for with specific, score-able savings that are credible and real.

Obviously, as I begin to withdraw our troops from Iraq, we're going to be bringing that money home; that is going to be a big infusion of resources that we have to use effectively. But for example, for clean energy and energy efficiency, I'm going right after the oil and gas loopholes and giveaways. It's going to be also funded by a portion of the cap-and-trade auction revenues that would be part of what I propose as we double our investment in basic research and other innovations.

We would end the deferral on taxing income earned abroad to rebuild our infrastructure. There are a number of very specific [Government Accountability Office] recommendations that I would immediately move to implement that would be worth about $6 billion, including streamlining the federal fleet and better managing surplus federal properties.

Getting back to strong, effective management, and having the specific ideas I've put forward as to how I would pay for everything I've proposed, will keep us within my commitment to be fiscally responsible.

On Iraq, bringing troops home is the easy part. What about stabilizing Iraq to protect our interests in that part of the world?

I serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee. I'm well aware of the many conflicting objectives that we confront in Iraq, and I have said that upon taking office, I would ask the secretary of defense and the joint chiefs and my security advisers to give me a plan so that I could begin to withdraw troops starting in 60 days. I think you could take, at the most, one to two brigades out a month.

But the reason that I have reached this conclusion is, Number One: Our troops have done everything they were asked to do. ... But there is no American military solution. And I have been to Iraq three times, I have met numerous times, both there and here, with the leaders of the various factions within that society, and I am convinced that until they believe that they will not have us to rely on, they will not make the hard decisions that are required for stability and unity.

If we don't demonstrate clearly that we are not there for the long run - no permanent bases, no guarantee that we'll be there to protect them - they're just going to continue to think they have a blank check and fight among themselves. Whereas I believe that if they were convinced - as they will be when I am president - that we are going to be withdrawing our troops, they will begin to have to come to grips with the decisions that so far they have avoided.

I also believe, based on numerous conversations with experts in the region, that this could be a very important challenge to the Iranians, who so far have had pretty much free rein, playing everybody against everyone else. But as the Iraqi government has to step up and take responsibility, the Iranians will be in a much more difficult position.

So I will begin to withdraw troops. If Iraqis are not prepared to do what they have to do, it will just be continuing loss of life and treasure from our country that is not going to make the stability and unity that the Iraqis should be seeking any closer.

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