Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett and his 6th District congressional challenger disagreed sharply in a televised debate over how best to fund new prescription drug coverage for seniors and on Bartlett's vote against a spending bill containing money for downtown Cumberland.
Democrat Donald M. DeArmon sought to place Bartlett on the defensive in the 30-minute debate, which was taped Monday and aired last night on Maryland Public Television. DeArmon said the conservative, four-term incumbent opposed an appropriations measure containing money for Canal Place, a development project that includes a rail station and visitors center in Cumberland.
"I really think he's been out of step on these projects," said DeArmon, 45, of Frederick, a longtime Capitol Hill staff member, most recently for Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat. "When Canal Place was dedicated a week ago, Congressman Bartlett was the only local official missing from that dedication because people understood he had voted against that project."
DeArmon said afterward that the catch-all spending bill, which passed easily over Bartlett's objections, included $1.2 million for the visitors center in Cumberland.
Bartlett replied that he sided against the measure because it included wasteful spending unrelated to the project in his sprawling district, which includes all of Western Maryland as well as Frederick and Carroll counties and a large part of Howard.
"Congressman Bartlett did not vote against funding for Canal Place," Bartlett said, mimicking his opponent. "Congressman Bartlett voted against a scandalous, omnibus appropriations bill that contained funding for a lot of things, and a lot of pork."
DeArmon is the underdog in the Nov. 7 election against Bartlett, 74, a former scientist and farmer who is a champion of smaller government.
"The platform I ran on eight years ago is the one I run on today," Bartlett said. "I believe that government is too big, it taxes too much, it regulates too much."
DeArmon said Bartlett has failed this year to address a key issue: making prescription drugs more affordable for senior citizens.
Bartlett backs a House Republican plan relying on subsidies to the insurance industry as an inducement to cover seniors' prescription drugs.
DeArmon called the GOP plan "an unworkable prescription drug benefit where there is no co-payment specified, where he would essentially leave this up to the health insurance companies."
"We need to make sure that the greatest generation has health-care security," he said, adding that he backs adding a new prescription drug plan under Medicare.
"Medicare is already in big trouble," Bartlett responded. "I don't know why you'd want to load more people on a ship that's already about to sink, but that's what you're doing by forcing this onto Medicare."
DeArmon criticized Bartlett for being the only member of the Maryland delegation not to support the Brady Bill, which imposed a waiting period on gun purchasers. The bill is named for former White House press secretary James S. Brady, who was wounded in the assassination attempt on former President Ronald Reagan.
"I'm also the only member of the delegation that represents Western Maryland," Bartlett said in reply. "And that's where Western Maryland is relative to the Brady Bill." He said technology exists to conduct background checks on prospective gun owners without making them wait.