Sen. Maria Cantwell's Republican challenger says the lessons he's learned while working in the Middle East could be applied to Congress, which he says is fraught with gridlock.
Michael Baumgartner, a state senator from Spokane, shared his ideas for congressional bipartisanship on Tuesday afternoon with about 20 students at Washington State University Vancouver. In particular, he said Democrats and Republicans might be able to forge an agreement on reforming both the military contract system and such civilian agencies as the CIA and the U.S. Department of State.
"We need many more specialists in languages from (the Middle East)," he said. He encouraged students in the audience to learn a difficult foreign language and consider serving in the military. "Our State Department has really evolved into (an) observe-and-report State Department that's built more for going to trade negotiations in places like Brussels and Geneva than for being out on the cutting edge of things" in high-conflict regions.
In 2007 and 2008, Baumgartner worked in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in the Office of Joint Strategic Planning and Assessment.
The State Department needs more independence from Congress because "Washington, D.C., works on a political cycle," and it's hard to get things done, he said.
He also criticized the U.S. Senate for failing to pass a budget resolution during the past few years. Although it has not passed budget resolutions — guiding statements of congressional intention without the force of law — the Senate has passed appropriations bills that keep the government running.
"The consequences of not getting (a budget) done in Washington, D.C., are very significant and severe," Baumgartner said. "We now have an America that borrows 40 cents for every dollar it spends, and we have $16 trillion in debt, and the (U.S.) Senate hasn't passed a budget in nearly four years. … At some point this process is going to grind to a halt because trends that can't continue, don't."
He said he does not agree with the Obama administration's military strategy in Afghanistan. Instead, he advocates bringing U.S. troops in Afghanistan home sooner. "The (post-traumatic stress disorder) rates are real" for troops, he said. "The divorce rates are real. The suicide rates are real."
He said he would like to see the U.S. fight terrorism through third-party forces in the region around the Middle East. He also advocates a one-cent tax increase on gas to help pay for veterans services and remind the public that there is a cost to war.
"Currently, we have folks in both parties that have really failed on these (foreign) policies," Baumgartner said, "either because of not wanting to buck their party leadership, or they just don't understand what's going on."
During his day in Vancouver, Baumgartner also lectured at Clark College, attended a fundraiser and met with The Columbian's editorial board. Cantwell, a Democrat, plans to attend an editorial board meeting Thursday.
In the Aug. 7 primary election, Baumgartner received about 30 percent of the vote; Cantwell received more than 55 percent. Ballots for the Nov. 6 general election will be mailed to voters Oct. 15.
WSUV student Jessica Mohr said the lecture inspired her: "I think it's amazing that he's so passionate about bipartisanship."