Concerns for Medicare dominate Cardin meeting

March 13, 1995|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Sun Staff Writer

An angry electorate tossed the Democrats from their control of Congress last fall. Judging from a Parkville town meeting sponsored yesterday by Rep. Benjamin Cardin, voters still are decidedly disgruntled.

About 75 mostly elderly voters assembled at the Parkville Center to sharply question the future of health care and Medicare and to decry government spending and regulations, policies and foreign aid.

Although he organized the town meeting, the Baltimore Democrat invited Rep. Robert Ehrlich Jr., a first term Republican whose district abuts Mr. Cardin's. The meeting became a microcosm of the battles on Capitol Hill. While Mr. Cardin noted the state's congressional delegation works as a team, Mr. Ehrlich was quick to point out, "Ben and I have some philosophical differences."

And it was Mr. Ehrlich's call for a limited federal approach that won the applause and his congressional colleague's defense of a federal role that often drew hoots and grumbles.

Mr. Ehrlich praised the Republican position of sending block grants to the states and lessening federal control, saying state and local governments know how to spend the money as opposed to "some guy in Washington." But Mr. Cardin said "national standards" and "federal requirements" are needed.

"You have to create another bureaucracy," snapped Glenn Jackson, a 56-year-old retired police officer from Fullerton, who opposed such a move and said he had labored under the federal government's "damn regulations."

"That's why we passed the moratorium bill," said Mr. Ehrlich. The reference to the GOP initiative that would postpone new federal regulations for a year drew strong applause.

Most of the questions centered on Medicare -- the government insurance program for the elderly -- and the future of health care.

One elderly man said he heard Sen. Phil Gramm, the Texas Republican who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, talk about cutting Medicare. "I was furious," he said.

"We don't have enough money in that trust fund to continue the program," said Mr. Cardin. "There's going to be an effort made to LTC reduce Medicare. That could be very bad for seniors."

On the broader issue of health care, Mr. Cardin said he favored universal insurance coverage, but through private insurance rather than through a government program.

"Ben's got the right idea," said Joseph Townsley, 67, a retired Teamsters official from Perry Hall.

But a 40-year-old businesswoman from Hamilton said that requiring health coverage would hurt small businesses. "If I'm forced to buy health insurance," said the woman, who requested anonymity, "I'll have to increase [the costs of] my services."

Mr. Ehrlich, however, said the way to drive down medical costs is by reforming the legal system to curb large malpractice awards. Now many doctors order too many tests as "defensive medicine" to prevent possible lawsuits, a move that only adds to individual bills, he said.

Mr. Cardin acknowledged the voter anger against the Democrats last fall and conceded his party had not done enough to cut government and regulations. Still, he said, "I don't think they understood the Contract with America," referring to House Speaker Newt Gingrich's 10-point plan to cut and reform government.

That view brought heckles, forcing Mr. Cardin to plead, "Please let me finish!"

"I think there are good things in the Contract with America," he said, pointing to the line-item veto and reductions in congressional staff. But he said he opposed the balanced budget amendment and a tax cut, preferring to use that money to cut the deficit.

"I'm not going to change when I think it's wrong," he said.

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