How do you assess the Trump administration so far?
Sarbanes: Like many Marylanders, I was dismayed by the results of the presidential election. President Trump ran a divisive campaign, fueled by resentment and centered on a policy agenda at odds with many of my core values. Since his election, President Trump has done nothing to ease my concerns about his views, temperament or policy goals. Trump has led Republican efforts to try and repeal the Affordable Care Act, signed into law a massive tax giveaway for corporations and wealthy Americans, banned refugees from Muslim-majority nations from entering our country, targeted our most vulnerable immigrants for deportation and rescinded protections against deportation for Dreamers, and attacked essential environmental protections. These examples are just a few of the many misguided and destructive policies the President supports. Furthermore, the President has made reckless threats against nuclear-armed North Korea and expanded military operations across the Middle East, all while increasing tensions with and sowing confusion among our allies with disjointed and often irresponsible statements on international affairs. On top of all these issues, he has weakened our democratic institutions by relentlessly smearing the free press, lowering the standards for our leaders’ conduct and political discourse, shattering decades of ethical norms, dismissing legitimate concerns about Russian interference in our elections, and using the Presidency to enrich himself, his family, his business and his wealthy donors.
Do you support or oppose the federal tax cuts passed in 2017? What effect do you believe they will have on the economy?
Sarbanes: I opposed H.R. 1, the disastrous Republican tax legislation. The Republican tax bill is devastating for millions of middle- and lower-income Americans, especially in Maryland. The bill directs money to the wealthiest Americans by slashing the corporate tax rate, limiting the estate tax, and dramatically reducing the tax rates for pass-through companies. Despite raising revenue on the backs of everyday Americans, the tax legislation would still increase the deficit by approximately $1.5 trillion over ten years. Congressional Republicans have already made clear that, after their tax bill explodes the deficit, they will seek to cut programs like Social Security and Medicare. Budgets are statements of values; cutting programs relied on by millions of Americans in order to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy is unconscionable. You may be sure that I will continue to strongly support these indispensable programs. Ultimately, policies like the Republican budget resolution and tax bill are the result of the broken way in which we finance our politics. A money-in-politics system that allows corporations and the ultra-wealthy to pour money into campaigns and super-PACs will lead to policies that inflict widespread harm on the many to benefit the very few. That is why I introduced H.R. 20, the Government By the People Act, to help restore the voice of everyday Americans in our politics. The fact is, whether it’s creating good jobs, education, health care or the environment, wealthy donors and Washington insiders are blocking progress on the issues that everyday citizens care most about.
Is the level of national debt a concern? What, if anything, should be done to reduce it or constrain its increase?
Sarbanes: While the national debt is an important long-term issue, drastically slashing spending to reduce the deficit and, eventually, the debt is misguided and counterproductive. Furthermore, ballooning the debt by passing $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and then insisting on cutting programs like Social Security and Medicare, as Congressional Republicans have done, is intellectually dishonest and would be disastrous for our country which is already dealing with an income inequality crisis. The best path towards a reduced national debt is sustained economic growth, which helps increase wages, boosts tax revenues collected by the government and organically decreases safety net spending. As the post-recession European experience has shown, austerity too often only serves to worsen economic downturns. There is no doubt that we will have to make tough choices between competing priorities. However, we must make these choices in a thoughtful way, being careful not to compromise the core values that have always sustained American progress - ensuring opportunity, strengthening community and promoting private enterprise and innovation.
Is the level of economic inequality in the United States a problem, and if so, what should the federal government do to address it?
Sarbanes: Income inequality is among the most pressing issues facing our nation today. The top 10% of earners make more income than the next 90% combined. Income inequality does not just affect those who are struggling, it restricts national economic growth. Research has demonstrated that high levels of income inequality reduces Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We are all better off when economic gains are distributed more evenly. To combat this growing problem, we need to focus on economic policies that grow the middle class. These include ending tax breaks for the corporations who ship American jobs overseas, investing in national infrastructure, and raising the minimum wage. No American who works full time should have to worry about food security, homelessness, or health insurance. Also higher education, which dramatically reduces the chance that a person falls into poverty, should be achievable and affordable for all Americans who wish to pursue an advanced degree. Before we can solve this issue, we need a government that responds to the needs of the average American. The prevalence of money in politics is a corrupting force; it takes the attention away from the middle class and places it on the wealthy. I have introduced a bill, the Government by the People Act, in order to remedy this problem within our democracy. It will amplify the voice of small donors during election fundraising; candidates will need to turn their attention to where it belongs, the people.
Should federal gun laws be changed, and if so, how?
Sarbanes: Gun violence is a serious public safety concern in our country and Congress is long overdue in passing commonsense legislation to address this issue. I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to ensure that no more lives are cut short by gun violence. In the House of Representatives, I have consistently supported efforts to change federal gun laws. I cosponsored various legislation to prevent gun violence, urged Republican leaders to hold a hearing on federal investment in gun violence prevention research, sent a letter with my Democratic colleagues to President Trump urging him to meet with members of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and voted in favor of legislation that included much needed funding for gun violence research. Like many Americans, I am deeply frustrated by the paralysis that infects Washington when it comes to progress on gun safety. But I still come to work each day believing that we can do better – that, together, we can find solutions to end the cycle of violence. We can start by appointing a Select Committee on Gun Violence. Congress needs to have a frank and transparent conversation about this scourge that is heightening fear and anxiety across every community. Let’s have a robust debate about the causes of mass shootings, the impacts of gun violence on public health, and the commonsense reforms that will keep Americans safe. It is up to Congress to put public safety first, not the interests and profits of the gun lobby.
What should Congress do with respect to the Affordable Care Act? Should it be strengthened, and if so, how? Should it be scrapped? If so, what if anything should replace it?
Sarbanes: I am a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and have opposed every attempt to repeal or defund this important law. While there is no question that improvements could be made to further lower costs and expand access to care for all Americans, some of the problems and rate increases over the past few years are directly tied to Republican attempts to sabotage the implementation and functioning of the ACA. President Trump’s decision to withhold Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments is shameful and, according to health insurers themselves, one of the primary reasons for the higher-than-expected premium increases announced in some states. I support bipartisan efforts to stabilize the health insurance markets and provide relief for Americans.
What role should the federal government play in helping cities like Baltimore?
Sarbanes: I travel home every evening, an opportunity many Members of Congress do not have, so I see firsthand how badly our infrastructure is in desperate need of repair. The need is particularly acute in Baltimore. I am a strong supporter of increased funding for national infrastructure investments and a long-term surface and public transportation bill that offers a cost-effective, safe, and reliable means of travel for all Americans. Mass transit is critically important for economic development, bolstering educational opportunities and improving quality of life. I remain extremely disappointed that Governor Hogan’s transportation plan pulls back state funding for the Baltimore Red Line, which would help connect West and East Baltimore. If we want to lift up Baltimore’s communities and provide them with the economic and educational opportunities they deserve, we need to develop a more robust and modern transportation network throughout the city. I have continued to encourage the Governor to reconsider his decision to abandon the Red Line. Events around the country, including what transpired in Baltimore, have spurred an important debate over law enforcement tactics. I strongly support the mandatory use of body cameras by police officers as a means of gathering evidence and increasing accountability, and have called for additional federal funds so that police departments can purchase body camera technologies. It is also important to provide better training and resources so that over the long-term, law enforcement officials can implement community policing strategies that promote safety in a collaborative, rather than adversarial fashion.
What can Congress do to address the opioid epidemic?
Sarbanes: I am deeply concerned about the heroin- and opioid-abuse epidemic in our Nation, which has hit Maryland especially hard. I was a cosponsor of H.R. 953, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), and I voted in favor of a large package of bills related to drug abuse and the opioid crisis. This package included H.R. 5046, the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act, which is similar to CARA, as well as a bipartisan bill I authored, H.R. 3680, the Co-Prescribing to Reduce Overdoses Act. H.R. 3680 creates a grant program under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand access to life-saving medications to counter overdoses. More recently, I joined several of my colleagues in introducing the Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Act (H.R. 5102), a bipartisan bill to help increase the number of healthcare professionals working in addiction treatment and substance use disorder programs around the country. The legislation aims to close the addiction treatment gap in America – which is largely attributed to a shortage of treatment providers – by creating incentives, in the form of student loan forgiveness, for health care professionals who provide direct patient care at opioid treatment programs in high-need areas. Finally, I also serve on a Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic whose aim is to create and implement solutions to end the heroin epidemic with a focus on expanding coordination among local and state officials, law enforcement agencies and medical professionals as well as increasing educational efforts.
What changes if any should Congress make to our immigration and deportation laws and policies?
Sarbanes: My grandparents undertook an ocean voyage from Greece to begin a new life running a small restaurant here in Maryland, and committed themselves to strengthening the democratic fabric of this country. I see that same commitment in the families of our immigrant communities all throughout America. I am proud that Maryland has led the way on improving our immigration system by passing the Dream Act in our state and I will continue to support similar efforts at the Federal level. I voted against H.R. 1892, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which failed to provide relief to the 800,000 DREAMers in our country. I am a cosponsor of H.R. 3440, the bipartisan and bicameral DREAM Act which would provide eligible undocumented youth a path to U.S. citizenship. As a strong proponent of giving DREAMers an opportunity to build a life in this country without the constant fear of deportation, I have long supported DACA, which offers undocumented youth temporary protection from removal. I opposed President Trump’s efforts to end provisional residency protections for some beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. I condemned the Trump Administration’s plan to end humanitarian protections for roughly 200,000 Salvadorans – 20,000 of whom reside in Maryland. I also joined my colleagues in a bipartisan letter to Congressional leadership urging them to bring a legislative solution to the floor that would provide protection for all beneficiaries of this critical humanitarian program.
Should the United States continue with the free trade policies it pursued for the last several decades, or should it enact restrictions in an attempt to help domestic industries?
Sarbanes: Unfortunately, our trade policies have long assumed that “free trade” is the same as “fair trade.” That assumption has touched off a race to the bottom where American jobs are shipped overseas to countries with non-existent labor standards and thread-bare environmental protections. We must reset our nation’s trade policies to ensure that fairness and American values guide U.S. trade agreements so that we can level the playing field for American businesses. Sadly, the machinations coming out of the White House regarding the imposition of tariffs has caused unnecessary uncertainty for the US economy. While some action may be meritorious, we need a clearer plan from the Executive Branch. U.S. trade agreements must address labor rights, human rights, and environmental protection. I place a very high priority on preserving high-wage jobs, and on increasing the competitiveness of our companies domestically and abroad.
Do you support the Iran nuclear deal?
Sarbanes: I supported the Iran nuclear agreement because I believe it will be effective in pulling Iran back from the threshold of becoming a nuclear weapon state and in keeping Iran away from that threshold for at least ten to twelve years. Thereafter, the detection regime that will remain in place, along with other U.S. and allied intelligence capabilities, should allow the United States to discover any attempt by Iran to breakout to a nuclear weapon and to make that discovery in time to thwart such an attempt. President Trump’s reckless decision not to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA weakens the United States, isolates us from our allies and undermines our credibility in future diplomatic efforts. There is no evidence that Iran has violated the terms of the JCPOA and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Secretaries of Defense and State, the National Security Advisor and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all attested to Iran’s compliance. While there is no question that Iran has continued its destabilizing activities by supporting terrorism and expanding its ballistic missile programs, these issues fall outside of the scope of the JCPOA. Congress should continue to counter Iran’s malicious behaviors without threatening the agreement that prevents it from developing nuclear weapons.
How should the United States address the rise of North Korea’s nuclear program?
Sarbanes: I believe it is more important than ever that the United States continue to support international efforts that promote peace, stability and democracy in the world. I also believe the United States must use all economic, political and diplomatic sanctions and other non-military options available to the United States to press North Korea to curb its nuclear proliferation activities and bring greater peace to the region. I believe that nuclear non-proliferation, as well as securing loose nuclear material, should be a key U.S. policy objective. Nuclear weapons testing in North Korea, a now-halted nuclear program in Iran, and instability in Pakistan all make it necessary for the U.S. to take a leadership role in reigning in nuclear proliferation. I am extremely concerned by the statements made by President Trump during the campaign that indicated a nonchalant attitude towards these destructive weapons and will fight to preserve nonproliferation as one of the chief aims of United States foreign policy. I am a cosponsor of H.R. 669, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act. This legislation would prohibit the President of the United States from conducting a first use nuclear attack unless such action has been approved by a Congressional declaration of war, which explicitly authorizes use of such force. H.R. 4140, the No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea Act, would prohibit a military strike against North Korea without explicit Congressional authorization, unless the United States was attacked first.