WASHINGTON – As Sen. Benjamin Cardin stepped off the campaign trail Wednesday, he envisioned a reenergized Congress, predicted a political payday for Maryland and considered the challenges of delivering bipartisanship in largely Democratic Washington.
The election of Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday “gives Congress renewed energy, America renewed energy to truly be a world leader.” But Democrats can’t afford to let their new power go to their collective head.
In addition to putting Obama, the Illinois Democrat, in the White House, voters added five Democratic senators and 19 Democratic congressmen as of Wednesday afternoon, with results still expected in a handful of races. However, the Senate majority isn’t filibuster proof, and Republican votes will still be needed for promised reforms.
Washington’s new, bluer pack, led by Obama, will be “transformational” for the country, Cardin said, but should also be a boon to Maryland, an epicenter of reliable and high-ranking Democrats who could join the new administration and an issues list topped by education and the environment that’s shared by the newly elected federal government.
In an exclusive interview with Capital News Service, Cardin also underscored some challenges the new government is likely to face, especially building consensus on issues where Democrats seek reform, such as health care and energy.
Cardin pledged that Democratic senators would address those issues in a bipartisan fashion, although he acknowledged that the arithmetic makes reaching across the aisle even more important.
The urgency of many key issues will bring members of both parties together, Cardin predicts.
“We need to deal with the economy so families can keep their homes and send their children to college and pay their electric bills and that’s what the message was about.”
The last period of Democratic rule — former President Bill Clinton’s first-term — was marred by internal squabbling and an unwillingness to compromise with Republicans. That led to a Republican coup in 1994.
This time around, Congress will work with all sides and focus on issues, not partisanship, Cardin said.
“I’m not sure we’re trying to win a popularity contest here, but we want to govern,” he said. “I hope Democrats will work with Republicans and Republicans will work with Democrats.”
Many Democrats hoped to make such bipartisanship a luxury, rather than a necessity, by reaching a filibuster-proof majority of 60 Democratic senators. Cardin campaigned for fellow Democrats in Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, but only three of those candidates were victorious Tuesday.
Still, “(t)here’s enough commonality here to move forward…. We won’t get everything done overnight,” Cardin said.
Some of that projected cooperation will have to counteract a last-minute effort by the Bush administration to deregulate several industries and diminish government oversight, reported Friday in the Washington Post. Many of these changes may be difficult to retract by the time the new government takes office in January.
For instance, Cardin pointed to a bill passed in the Maryland General Assembly to adopt California’s green emission standards, but the White House blocked the effort.
However, in the next “chapter of Maryland history, we will see a president who will have sensible regulations and we’re not going to allow what happened in the financial markets to happen again, and we’ll see the same thing on the environmental front,” Cardin said.
“You’re going to find a much friendlier administration to work with the state legislature and governor of Maryland and (move) forward with the agenda of Maryland.”
The state will continue to have federal friends. The congressional leadership contains a disproportionate number of Maryland natives, the senator pointed out.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, Democratic Congressional Campaign Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, and a member of the small cadre of Democratic leaders who supported Obama from the first days of the primary campaigns, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, are all Maryland sons.
Cardin himself – a junior senator first elected in 2006 – expects to play a more important role in the next Congress, moving up in clout in his committees.
He also expects the priorities at the center of his 40-year public service career will coincide with those of Democratic government — universal health care coverage, an environmentally friendly energy policy, and “of course, locally, the Chesapeake Bay continues to be a priority.”
Maryland’s political leadership is well positioned to be a part of the administration, and Cardin said all Maryland voters should be proud of their role in electing the Illinois senator.
“It’s going to be good for Maryland, it’s going to be good for our country, and it’s going to be good for the world.”