U.S. Sen. Mark Warner told an audience of state business and political leaders today that solving the nation’s debt and deficit problem is about more than putting the country on stable financial footing.
“The greater value is to restore America’s confidence that our elected leaders are not all numbnuts,” Warner said bluntly in a speech at an annual leadership forum sponsored by the pro-business organization Virginia FREE.
Warner, a Democrat, and his predecessor, Republican John Warner, were the keynote speakers for the sold-out event at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, where bipartisanship was the theme.
John Warner reflected on the collegiality and discipline that existed during his 30-year tenure in the Senate and enabled the chamber to get things done.
“It’s not the way now,” he lamented.
Mark Warner is part of the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Six,” an ad hoc group trying to build a consensus around a plan to cut the deficit by at least $4 trillion over 10 years through spending cuts, entitlement reforms and tax reforms. As many as 45 senators and more than 100 House members from both parties support the concept of taking a broad-based approach to deficit reduction, he said.
“Anybody who says that this is one party’s problem only is just not telling the truth,” he said.
But Mark Warner voiced concerns that partisanship is keeping Congress from tackling the problem. And national business leaders have been reluctant to embrace the “Gang of Six” efforts for fear of offending certain senators, he said.
“We all have to get out of our personal comfort zones,” he said.
As governor, Warner got key Virginia business leaders behind him in 2004 when he pushed a tax increase through the Republican-controlled General Assembly. A key Republican ally in that fight, former Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester, also spoke at today’s event.
Chichester, who retired from the legislature in 2007, said he hears complaints about a growing lack of civility in Washington and Richmond.
“The political parties – I realize they put pressure where pressure shouldn’t be,” Chichester said. “I realize the units at home put pressure where it shouldn’t be. But that vast reservoir of independents out here that are not connected to either party are saying ‘We don’t care what your party is; let’s get together and solve these problems.’”
Former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Fairfax County, also said factors such as partisan redistricting, conflict-driven cable news programs, and campaign spending by ideological interest groups has added to the polarization.
Davis’ wife, former state Sen. Jeannemarie Davis, also had the audience talking today when Virginia FREE Chairman Jimmy Hazel introduced her and said she is running for lieutenant governor. The former legislator, who directs the Washington D.C. Virginia Liaison office for Gov. Bob McDonnell, has not publicly announced her candidacy.
– Michael Sluss