While U.S. Representative Tom McMillen spent Thursday night working on a budget plan and other legislation, his opponent in the 4th District race was in Maryland City railing against Congress for failing to come up with a strategy to reduce the federal deficit.
"We don't know if we are being led into a blind alley and we don't know if the taxpayer is going to get mugged in the process," said Republican Bob Duckworth. "The problem with the budget deficit today is lackluster leadership."
The forum, sponsored by the Maryland City Civic Association, drew 11 candidates for offices ranging from register of wills to county executive.
The anticipated debate between the two congressional candidates, however, never got started.
With McMillen in Washington, his press secretary, Brad Fitch, stood in and read a letter apologizing for the congressman not showing up.
Duckworth, in his five-minute address, said a "second revolution" is needed.
"Taxation with irresponsible representation is what we are concerned about," he said.
Duckworth called for complete campaign reform and said money from political action committees and other special interest groups is ruining the budget process.
He said Congress is trying to form a budget backward, because law makers started by raising taxes. "You can't start with tax increases," he said.
"It's got to start with incentives."
In the letter, McMillen said he realized that "many of you are frustrated with our government and its inability to pass a budget," but said he will fight to ensure that the "burden of deficit reduction falls evenly and fairly on all Americans."
McMillen voted for the budget compromise last week, which called for tax increases and promised to slash $500 billion from the federal deficit.
Duckworth said he would have voted for the bill, but only because the president was backed into a corner by Congress.
The bill failed to garner enough votes to send it to the Senate. Now, Congress is back at work trying again to come up with a budget plan, which must pass by next week or the government will face another shut down Oct.
"The signals from the White House have reduced the early optimism that this would get done quickly," Fitch said. "Twice the President has made statements that conflicted with each other. It makes us wonder who is running the show."
At one point, President Bush indicated he was open to trading acceptance of higher taxes on the wealthy for a lower tax rate on capital gains, only to reverse his stand later. Then he told Republican leaders to negotiate the deal, but later told reporters it would be "a waste of time."
Duckworth, noting the confusion, said he gave a tour last January to a group of Polish students who wanted to learn about government. He said he took them to Congress, where they watched lawmakers debate all day to change the name of lake in Kansas and vote for another study of national education standards.
"One intern noted that it took only 14 measures to turn (his) country from a socialist to a Democratic state," Duckworth said.