ARLINGTON, Va. — Congressional Democrats and Republicans split up across Virginia Monday to deliver dueling messages about the need for a bipartisan deal to stop $85 billion in looming budget cuts set to start taking effect Friday.
In Arlington, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and Reps. Jim Moran and Gerry Connolly joined leaders from the travel industry at Reagan National Airport to warn of the cuts’ potential impact on aviation. Meanwhile, in Virginia Beach, Republican Reps. Rob Wittman, Randy Forbes and Scott Rigell talked about the cuts’ effect on the military.
Kaine said a real compromise should include a balance of tax increases and budget cuts, especially because previous agreements included $1.4 trillion in spending reductions over 10 years combined with $600 billion to $700 billion in tax increases. He said Washington should follow the lead of Richmond, where Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell bucked GOP orthodoxy and joined with Democrats to pass a plan that dedicates $880 million annually in new funds for transportation, mostly through new taxes.
“Let’s take a lesson. Let’s compromise,” said Kaine, a former Virginia governor.
Republicans said the GOP-controlled U.S. House has passed legislation sparing the military from cuts, but said that unless the Democratic-controlled Senate takes action, thousands of military civilians and government contractors in the Hampton Roads region are expected to lose work, delivering a blow to the area’s economy.
“Even in this late hour there are alternatives and I’m sober and realistic about where we are and the probability that sequestration will go into effect for some period of time at some level,” Rigell said, referring to the looming spending reductions that would be triggered by a past budget agreement. “But we’re fighting and we’re going to continue to fight.”
Rigell’s comments come a day before President Barack Obama is scheduled to give a speech at Newport News Shipbuilding, which builds and maintains the nation’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers as well as other warships. The Navy has already delayed a long-planned complex overhaul of the USS Abraham Lincoln at the shipyard as a result of the budget uncertainty, and other plans call for delaying the construction of other ships.
Moran said the GOP plan to spare the military merely shifts all of the looming cuts to other crucial government functions. Using air travel as an example, Moran said the cuts now envisioned will result in fewer air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration security screeners, which will result in flight delays and lines of up to an hour to clear security at their airport.
Connolly said that if a compromise isn’t reached, it will be more than furloughed government workers who feel the pain.
“For those who ascribe to the philosophy that all government spending is the same, and it’s bad, … we’re about to see the lie given to all of that rhetoric,” he said.
While Democrats and Republicans cleaved to their own messages Monday, each side said it was willing to work across the aisle. The Democrats said they invited longtime Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, who represents northern Virginia but couldn’t attend because of a previous commitment, and the Republicans said they invited Democrat Bobby Scott, who represents parts of Hampton Roads.
Moran said the Democrats in the delegation often find common ground with Wolf, who was an early supporter of the Simpson-Bowles commission that advocated a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, and has also been one of the most outspoken Republicans against anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.
Still, the partisan nature of Monday’s events seemed apparent to Virginia Beach resident Mark Stets, who attended the Republican forum. His son Mark Stets Jr. was killed in Pakistan while serving in the Army in 2010.
“Sequestration doesn’t affect me or him anymore, but it affects the young men going in now, the men that are in combat,” he said. “It’s not just my son. It’s the next man that dies.”
Stets said he was frustrated that the forum was effectively a Republican event. He said that Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner should have dropped everything to be there.
He also said Republicans in the House have done their job passing a bill and that the Senate should at least vote on their proposals.
“I have no respect for anyone in the Senate,” he said.
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