Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski speaks at a fundraiser for the Howard… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
As county Republicans gear up to try to capitalize on voter unrest, Howard County's Democrats are rallying to battle back.
A rare county gathering of both Maryland senators along with the two congressmen who represent the county made that fighting tone abundantly clear last week at an annual county Democratic Party fundraiser at the grand Ellicott City home of Irfan and Erum Malik. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and state party Chairwoman Susan Turnbull also attended, along with a clutch of local elected officials.
"Don't take anything for granted. This is going to be an interesting year," Turnbull told the crowd. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who at 73 is seeking a fifth six-year term this year, is watching at least five littleknown Republicans fight for the chance to oppose her in November, along with one independent candidate.
"They think they smell blood in the water," Mikulski told a crowd of nearly 100 Democrats.
Mikulski, a plain-talking East Baltimore Democrat, acknowledged the compound broken ankle that had her off her feet for a while last summer and still has her walking a bit more carefully.
"I'm not only back on my feet, but see this ankle? I've got a lot of metal in it, and I'm ready to kick butt," she said to cheers. Mikulski also made fun of the conservative tea party movement that has received lots of media attention.
"There are a lot of naysayers out there," she said. "Tea-partyers want to put their little bags in hot water and steam." She acknowledged voter frustration, but said opponents "tried to trash our president and tried to stomp on our agenda, and when they lack ideas, they lie."
Bloggers have wrongly speculated that she might not run, she said, "but I am not shy, and I am not retiring."
Neither is she, or the other three members of Congress at the $60-per-ticket event, giving up on health care reform, they said. Mikulski told about several insurance practices to bolster the point.
In eight states, according to congressional testimony, she said, being a victim of domestic violence is considered a "pre-existing condition" that insurance companies use to deny coverage. She said in another case, a woman who gave premature birth by Caesarean section was dropped by her insurance company and left with a whopping bill. When she tried to obtain new insurance, she got a letter from an insurance company saying she had to show proof of sterilization for approval.
"Sterilization, dear friends, in the United States of America," Mikulski said. She called that insurance company, which she didn't identify, and got them to change the policy, she said.
"This is what Barbara Mikulski does.
This is what I fight for."
She tried to emphasize her image as a direct- action, tough-talking senator, as distinct from that of a Congress bogged down in partisan bickering and inaction.
"You're frustrated with Congress and so am I, because when all is said and done, more gets said than done," she said. "We need to have Senate reform."
She wants to change Senate rules on filibusters, saying that current rules "belong to the last century."
Her senate colleague, Benjamin L. Cardin, delivered a similar message a bit later, though he smiled as he mentioned that he is not up for re-election this year.
"I'm not on the ballot. Sometimes you luck out," he said. "This is a pretty tough election." He didn't mention Republicans by name but left little doubt whom he meant in talking about groups that have attacked
President Barack Obama and Democrats.
"Their strategy is obstruction for purposes of maintaining the status quo, because their friends [in big business] are doing OK," he said. "Our first priority is jobs, but we're going to use every ounce of energy we have for health care to be a right, not a privilege," he said to applause.
"They don't want to start over. They want to defeat this bill because they don't want Barack Obama to have a victory," he said. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings likened the health care situation to a football game, with his team driving for a touchdown from the 1-foot line.
"We cannot fumble the ball," he said. "Starting over means doing nothing. We can't afford it."
His colleague, John Sarbanes, also talked about an "angry" electorate, but he said Democrats have to tell people "they are listening" and remind them "why they are so angry." It is because they have been taken advantage of for years by the health insurance industry, the big banks and credit card companies, he said.
Asked about the Democrats' remarks later, Republican state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, the minority leader, had very different views. While Democrats say people need and want significant health care reform, Republicans insist that a majority oppose the current legislation.
"The majority of Americans support the Republicans" on the health care reform bill, he said. He characterized Cardin's remarks in a way that Republicans have since
Ronald Reagan's presidency.
"That's the traditional class warfare that many liberals go with," Kittleman said. "That kind of rhetoric turns people off." If Democrats ignore public opinion, he said, and pass some version of health care reform, "they do so at their own [political] peril. It's a bad bill. The majority of Americans don't want it. That's a fact."