ROCKVILLE – As the House fine-tuned legislation granting Wall Street a $700 billion bailout Thursday night, the four congressional hopefuls in the 8th District panned the original legislation.
The four were at a debate at the Rockville Library. Incumbent Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, skipped it to attend a caucus meeting on the emergency financial legislation, according to a statement released at the forum.
“I don’t know what’s more upsetting — the fact that Congress has sat around and done nothing for the past year while this problem has been brewing and the crisis has been growing or that they’ve allowed themselves to be stampeded into this $700 billion bailout by the same guy that told us we just had to go into Iraq,” said Green Party candidate Gordon Clark to fits of applause.
Rounding out the debaters Thursday were Republican Steve Hudson, a Navy surgeon; Democratic write-in candidate Lih Young; and Democratic write-in candiate Deborah Vollmer. Representing Van Hollen was Bill Parsons, Van Hollen’s legislative director.
The other candidates agreed with Clark on the economic bailout, focusing their frustrations on Congress and sometimes on Van Hollen, who voted for the bailout legislation twice.
President Bush signed the bailout bill Friday after a second House vote pushed it through Congress. Changes to the original bill, rejected by the House Monday, finally won enough votes for passage.
The new bill adds $110 billion in tax and spending revisions and expanded mental health coverage. It also increases federal bank deposit insurance from $100,000 to $250,000.
“Mr. Van Hollen did vote for the bailout, and if I’d been in Congress, I would not have voted for that bill,” said Vollmer, who ran against Van Hollen in the primary. “I don’t think we should be bailing out Wall Street and ignoring people whose homes are in foreclosure.”
Parsons characterized his boss’s vote as reluctant support.
“(Van Hollen) has reluctantly come to the conclusion after consulting a wide spectrum of opinion that the costs and pain to Main Street is going to be greater if we fail to act decisively now and wait for this crisis to get worse,” he said.
Both candidates and constituents expressed regret and agitation at Van Hollen’s absence.
“It was really disappointing, (the other candidates) we’re trying all season to get a debate with him and to have him not show up makes you think, ‘Does he care about local constituents?'” said Sue Katz Miller of Takoma Park.
Miller and others who attended the debate said Parsons’ inability to speak about the issues on a personal level hurt Van Hollen’s cause in the debate.
Van Hollen won the 2006 election with 77 percent of the vote. He is favored to retain his seat in November.