Editor’s note: The Herald-Mail asked the candidates running for U.S. Senate in the Nov. 6 general election to respond to seven questions.
Their responses follow.
The candidates were asked to limit each response to 100 words. Their responses are being published as submitted, except when edited for length, clarity or for legal reasons.
Question: How important is it that the United States reduce its debt? How and when should that be done?
Dean Ahmad: Debt reduction is a top priority. Regardless of any changes in taxes, this must done by spending reductions. In order to manage this, we must bring home all American troops, end the futile and counter-productive war on drugs, end all corporate welfare, shut down unproductive government bureaus and departments, and reform all the entitlement programs.
Dan Bongino: It is of the utmost importance. We need to start dealing with our debt now. We cannot continue to spend money we do not have. We need to cut spending across the board. We need to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government by eliminating waste and fraud.
Ben Cardin: Reducing our debt must be a top national priority. We need a balanced approach to controlling our budget — sensible reductions in spending, along with tax fairness, like closing loopholes that encourage shipping jobs overseas. Democrats and Republicans must work together for a truly bipartisan, balanced approach to reducing our deficit. I support the bipartisan blueprint outlined by the Simpson-Bowles commission. I will not support any plan that unfairly burdens working-class families, while allowing high-income Americans to avoid paying their fair share.
Rob Sobhani: We face a $16 trillion national debt and we’re still borrowing 47 cents of every dollar. Without sacrifices, America faces a catastrophe that will hurt every single family in this country by bankrupting our government. My focus would be first on waste and duplication. Every department’s budget must be cautiously examined to maximize efficiencies so that we can avoid across-the-board cuts, which often undermine our principles. I would look to cut programs as opposed to people, to protect people like veterans from harsh cuts.
2: What’s the best way to create more jobs?
Ahmad: At the same time we are reducing spending, we can make our country more productive by replacing most federal regulations with legislation that makes actors that harm others responsible for the costs or damages they impose on others. This will eliminate up to $2 trillion (yes trillion!) of compliance costs. We should also replace all taxes on productivity with taxes on natural resource extraction and the location value of land.
Bongino: The best way to produce jobs is through the private sector. We must hold the line on tax rates on income, cut corporate tax rates and do a cost-benefit analysis on new regulation to eliminate unnecessary burdens on small business.
Cardin: As part of a responsible, balanced approach to reducing the deficit, our blueprint should provide for job growth by investing in small business, education, transportation, energy and research. Small businesses create most of our new jobs. An educated work force is needed for America’s competitiveness. Transportation and energy projects help America’s economy grow. And research maintains America’s global edge.
Sobhani: In the past six years, half of the Fortune 500 companies ... (in) Maryland closed shop and left. We must reverse this trend by making Maryland a dynamic and fertile business atmosphere. ... I will seek private funds to make Maryland the center for medical research and treatment, increase our export capacity, stimulate housing and construction, revitalize our outdated infrastructure and train new workers with cutting-edge skills. ... My five-point plan will create incentives for companies to start hiring Marylanders again. ... It amounts to $5.5 billion in private funds. If I fail to deliver, I won’t run for re-election.
3. Besides jobs, what is Washington County’s most pressing need? How can you help?
Ahmad: After jobs, the most important issue for the people of Washington County is their children’s future. Will their children have jobs, and even if they do, will they be so saddled by public debt that they have become, through no fault of their own, lifelong indentured servants to the federal government?
Bongino: Government policies that support the increase in energy production in Western Maryland would produce a robust spillover effect in Washington County. Economic growth is the most pressing need for Washington County, as well as throughout all of Maryland.
Cardin: Quality transportation infrastructure can be a magnet for business development, but the burdens of such investments are difficult at a local level. As a result of the federal investments I have championed for the Hagerstown Regional Airport, Washington County’s thriving biotechnology, cyber security and other high-tech industries have seen tremendous growth. Coupled with Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grants that are revitalizing the roads and other infrastructure around such facilities as the Aetna Farm Technology Park, the region’s capacity to support new and innovative projects for the long term is revitalizing Maryland’s economy.
Sobhani: It’s hard (to) exclude job creation from the list of priorities because it is far too important to get people who have lost their jobs back to work. ... But let’s imagine what happens after we are successful in creating jobs. If that’s the case, I’d say baseball. Hagerstown has been rooting for a new stadium for some time. It has to be done in a way that doesn’t burden the taxpayer or adversely impact peoples’ property values, but when we do succeed in creating more jobs for Washington County, we’ll be a few steps closer to that new stadium.
4. What, if anything, would you change about federal entitlement programs?
Ahmad: By 2050, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, will gobble up more than 18 percent of GDP (traditionally the amount of all federal tax revenues combined). We must put unfunded federal liabilities on budget and then reform the systems so that they become sustainable by replacing Social Security’s Ponzi scheme structure with actual investments to pay pensions. Reform Medicare into a consumer-driven market giving payers incentive to control costs. Require states, hospitals and charitable institutions to take on much more of the Medicare burden. Even this will be futile unless we repeal the trillion-dollar (the first 10 years) “Obamacare” boondoggle.
Bongino: There should be no changes in Medicare for anyone 55 years and older. I would reform Medicare for those younger than 55 by giving them the ability to choose between traditional Medicare and other plans such is the same benefits allowed to those in Congress.
Cardin: We need to reduce the projected cost of Medicare by reducing the growth rate of health care costs. The Affordable Care Act 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. Analyses have shown that the sickest 10 percent of Medicare beneficiaries account for 70 percent of spending. To bring down these costs, we must address chronic diseases and implement delivery system reforms, such as reducing hospital readmissions.
Sobhani: We should use welfare to equip people to provide for themselves. Few people are looking for handouts, but people who have fallen on hard times could use help grasping (an) opportunity. Getting the economy back on track will help everyone. Also, the projected cost of Medicare will bankrupt the system in the very near future. Medicare must be reformed to ensure that Americans who paid into it can count on a system that meets their needs without decimating their savings. Making sure these programs can exist in the future will require some serious talk today about efficiencies and sacrifices.
5. How would you change the federal tax code? Please be specific.
Ahmad: I would start a program of reform that would gradually replace all taxes on productive activity with taxes on extraction of natural resources and the location value of land.
Bongino: The tax code has become riddled with “crony capitalist” deductions. This has created a system where access to “power brokers” is valued more than creating economic value for the American people. Across-the-board rate reductions, along with a reduction in the number of definable income categories, will allow citizens to prosper. In addition, both the corporate and capital gains tax rates must be reduced, and loopholes eliminated, in order to spur innovation, investment and increased productivity.
Cardin: Since January, I have been advocating for a compromise, similar to the Simpson-Bowles outline, to avoid automatic tax rate hikes and across-the-board budget cuts. A credible plan includes closing loopholes that encourage shipping jobs overseas and asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share.
Sobhani: I prefer a 15 percent flat tax on most working Americans. If we simplify our convoluted system, we can limit waste and fraud. Making the system simpler favors the middle class too, because they would not need to hire expensive accountants to lower their rates. Those who are making a lot more can afford to pay a little more without penalizing their success or sending capital overseas. Another proposition I endorse is to make student loans tax-deductible for employers. We need to create the same incentives for advanced education that we have for homeownership.
6. What is the best thing President Obama has done and what is the worst?
Ahmad: Best thing: Killing bin Laden
Worst thing: Detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act that turn America into a banana republic by allowing indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or judicial review.
Bongino: The president made the right decision by ordering the strike on Osama bin Laden. The president has failed in controlling government spending.
Cardin: President Obama delivered on his pledge to withdraw our military from Iraq in a safe and stable manner, and he has ensured that Osama bin Laden will no longer be a threat to our nation. In addition, the president has turned (our) economy back on a path of job growth, including more than 500,000 manufacturing jobs.
Our long-term budget deficit has not been addressed, but in fairness to the president, the Republicans, primarily in the House of Representatives, have refused to sit down to negotiate in good faith toward a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan.
Sobhani: The president did a great job in 2008 speaking to Americans about positive things like hope and change. He made people aspire for something better in politics. The challenge is delivering on your promise, and that’s why accountability is the centerpiece of my campaign. Regarding disappointments, the economy hasn’t grown at the rate we’d hoped. How much of that is the president’s fault is debatable. I fear he has not been a hands-on leader, willing to get past the partisan gridlock. That is what we really need now because the political parties in this country are getting us nowhere.
7. What, if anything, should the U.S. do about Iran’s nuclear program?
Ahmad: The sanctions on Iran have been a miserable failure and military action would be a disaster. I believe the current impasse could be ended if the U.S. would offer to respect Iran’s right to produce nuclear medicine in return for giving the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) unobstructed access to all its nuclear sites.
Bongino: We must make it perfectly clear to Iran that we will not tolerate the production of a nuclear weapon. We need to build a coalition with our allies to assert more pressure on Iran, increasing pressure through economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
Cardin: An Iran with nuclear weapons would be a game changer in the Middle East, jeopardizing U.S. interests and the security of our friends in the Middle East, including Israel. Effective sanctions need to be strengthened and the U.S. must continue to isolate Iran internationally unless it forgoes its nuclear weapon program and complies with its international commitments.
Sobhani: We must prevent this possibility from becoming a reality because a nuclear-armed Iran is a danger to the region, our NATO allies and anyone within ballistic range. The best way to prevent Iran from completing its nuclear program is to support a democratic Iran. The Iranian people do not wish to become international outcasts. Rather, their nuclear program is driven by a regime that opposes freedom, tolerance and peaceable relations. I am concerned that a military strike on Iran would only harden its resistance to the surrounding world and potentially accelerate its nuclear program.