Pilot: Now's the time to "do our jobs," local congressmen say
Sep 27, 2012 -
By Bill Bartel
© September 27, 2012
Back home after the least productive congressional session in recent history, Hampton Roads' four legislators told a luncheon audience Wednesday that compromise is needed to avoid a fiscal and budget crisis looming at the end of the year.
"There's a lot of frustration out there. There's anger. There's fear," U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland County, told about 200 people at the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce gathering at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. "We can allay those by doing our jobs, and that is making sure we seek solutions.... It's pretty simple going forward. It's jobs and the economy."
Of the thousands of bills introduced since the 112th Congress began in January 2011, 173 laws were passed - roughly half the average number passed in recent decades.
Hampton Roads' three Republicans and one Democrat in the U.S. House noted that they have worked together on some projects, including a successful effort to stall the Navy's plans to move a Norfolk-based aircraft carrier to Mayport, Fla.
But their comments indicated that, like their colleagues on Capitol Hill, they remain deeply divided along party lines on larger budget issues.
All four are running for re-election and, regardless of the outcome on Nov. 6, will return to the Capitol in late November to deal with a package of automatic tax increases and $1 trillion in budget cuts slated to begin in January.
Budget analysts warn that if Congress and the White House do nothing, the changes - collectively described as the "fiscal cliff" - will spark a new recession. Half the budget cuts, known as sequestration, would be in defense, a potential blow to the Hampton Roads economy.
U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes of Chesapeake and Scott Rigell of Virginia Beach, both Republicans, reiterated that they have supported legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House that would avert the military cuts by shifting them to other parts of the budget. The two and Wittman have criticized the Democratic-controlled Senate for failing to consider the House bill or pass an alternative.
In general, the Republicans have opposed any tax increases, although Rigell softened his stance earlier this year, saying he would consider increases as part of a larger agreement that includes spending cuts.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Newport News Democrat, argues that to stop deficit spending - the government is borrowing about $21 billion a month - tax increases have to be included or there won't be enough money to cover needed government functions.
When speaking about reaching a bipartisan agreement, Rigell said: "This pursuit of common ground doesn't mean we stand in a circle and sing 'Kumbaya' and sway back and forth. I'm not talking about that. We've had spirited debates since the foundation of this country.
"We must be passionate about finding common ground because this is the way - indeed the only way - that we'll meet the deep obligation that we have to the next generations of Americans."
Forbes said the country is struggling to maintain what he considers "four pillars" - the economy, the rule of law, religious freedom and a strong military.
"My big concern is that what we have to do as a nation is be able to do this - not so much compromise on our principles because I wouldn't ask anybody to do that - but we've got to find common ground where we can build - create the building blocks to build a foundation to restabilize those four steady pillars," Forbes said.
Scott, who called the budget process "almost comical," expressed frustration that no line-item details are being offered in budget-reduction plans that show exactly how the cuts would affect government services. If people knew the depth of the cuts, they wouldn't object to the tax increases, he said.
"When Hampton Roads' economy is 50 percent dependent on the federal government, when you reduce the size of government, you're hitting home."