The Item: Biden Stumps in Bishopville
By CRYSTAL OWENS
Speaking on the war in Iraq and national health care, Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., told a crowd of about 50 gathered at the South Carolina Cotton Museum on Sunday that the country has been "dug into a pretty deep hole."
The six-term senator fielded questions from the crowd on everything from funding for mental health programs to his plan for getting the country's troops out of Iraq.
"The next president is going to have to figure out how to get us out of Iraq with our interests intact so we don't have to send our grandchildren there or our children there now for third and fourth tours," he said.
Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he and foreign policy expert Leslie Gelb have proposed to divide Iraq along ethnic lines to give Shia, Sunnis and Kurds more control over their daily lives while maintaining a central government to keep the peace and distribute the country's oil revenues.They also called for an international conference of nine countries to pressure Iraq to accept a federal form of government.
He said U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C, endorsed that plan Sunday during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Biden spent the day in South Carolina on Sunday, speaking at town hall meetings at Hartsville's Coker College and in Bennettsville before making his final stop in Bishopville. He also attended services at Jerusalem Baptist Church with state Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, and his family.
Biden plans to visit with Orangeburg County Democrats today at the Chestnut Grill.
"This guy's genuine, he's the real deal," Malloy said of Biden during a stop at the Huddle House on U.S. 15 South, where the senator and his entourage stopped for dinner following the meet-and-greet at the museum. "He's an experienced, qualified candidate. ... When I bring somebody to my home, I want you to know, it's real important."
Biden said voters understand the importance of the 2008 presidential election and are looking for someone who is real.
"I reject the idea that we're so divided," he said. "... This president (George W. Bush) has spent the last six years dividing us by not telling the American people the truth."
With 47 million Americans without health care coverage, Biden said he wants to expand that necessity for every child under age 18. He also said he supports states that are pursuing alternatives that ensure everyone has access to health care, and he thinks research from these states should be evaluated to determine which works best.
"If we're smart and patient about it, we will let the states do the experimenting with it," Biden said.
Sumter County resident Kay Harmon, mother of a mentally ill son, asked the senator how he would restore funding to the National Institutes of Health that, since 2000, "has been going backwards."
"I propose doubling funding for the National Health Institute," he told her. "... I promise you, from where I stand, there is no distinction I make between mental illness and physical illness. They should all be treated the same."
Biden also said he thinks more research is necessary to find cures for mental illnesses that are plaguing thousands of Americans.
The senator said Democrats have lost touch with the country's middle-class a demographic the party used to win.
"We have to learn to speak to people the way we used to," Biden said.