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Senator Mark Warner came to Bedford, Saturday, to hold a town hall meeting before a vocal, often critical audience. About 50 people gathered at Olde Liberty Station to listen to and ask Warner questions.
“I want to give you a brief description of what’s going on in Washington, the good, the bad and the ugly,” Warner said as he began the meeting.
Warner said that the good news is that the country has had 27 months of positive job growth.
“But we are still 8 million jobs in the hole,” he said.
Warner said that 80 percent of new jobs created in the last 20 years came from start-up businesses, and this includes small businesses.
“One of the biggest problems [for these businesses] is getting access to capital,” Warner said.
Warner pointed to the the JOBS Act, which passed Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama this spring. Warner said that the law makes it easier for privately held companies to go public. He said it also makes it easier for small companies to raise capital via what Warner called “crowd sourcing” on the Internet.
Warner said that other problems that need to be addressed include providing broad-band Internet access to under-served rural areas. He said current programs are not adequate.
The federal tax code also needs revised according to Warner. It should “actually reward companies that invest in America.” He said it needs to support “insourcing” of jobs rather than “outsourcing.” He voted to move forward the Bring Jobs Home Act, which failed to move ahead in the Senate last week.
Warner addressed America’s national debt and federal deficits.
“Right now, America is sitting on $16 trillion of debt,” he said.
Warner said that neither party has clean hands. He said that dealing with the problem won’t be a one party solution and that it can’t be achieved by cuts alone or raising taxes alone. He pointed to the “Gang of Six” that he formed in the Senate last year. This was a bipartisan group that proposed addressing federal deficits with $3 in cuts for every $2 in tax increases.
“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” Warner said
He also said that Social Security needs fixed because the math no longer works out the way it did in 1935 when life expectancy was 62. Now life expectancy is much longer. He said that, when he was young there were 16 people working for every one person collecting Social Security. Now there are only three and there will only be two by 2030. Warner suggested possible solutions such as raising the retirement age, raising the cap on the amount of wages subject to Social Security tax and having means testing for recipients.
Overall, Warner believes that the United States has a better economic situation than any other country and mentioned Europe. He added that even China is having problems.
During a question and answer period, Warner was asked about excessive regulation, with the EPA mentioned in particular.
“I do think you need regulatory reform,” he said.
Warner said that a cost/benefit analysis needs to be looked at for all regulations and this should be done by an independent group that is neither part of the industry being regulated, or part of the federal agency proposing the regulation. He said that industry tends to exaggerate the cost while regulatory agencies tend to exaggerate the benefits. He added that, after a regulation is imposed, nobody checks a few years later to see if the regulation is actually working.
He also took criticism from the audience for his votes in favor of President Obama’s health care act and the 2009 stimulus; Warner defended those votes.
“We have a health care system right now that is going to bankrupt the country,” Warner commented. “I think it [the health care act] is going to shake up the system.”
Warner defended his vote on the stimulus, saying that unemployment would have gone to between 12 percent and 15 percent without it.
“That was a spirited discussion,” Warner commented after the meeting.
Warner repeated the need for bipartisan solutions.
“The American people don’t trust either party enough to give them a blank check,” he said.
He looked back to his time as governor eight years ago. Warner said that, with bipartisan agreement, he and the General Assembly raised taxes.
“They said the sky was going to fall,” he commented.
According to Warner, the Republicans who went along with the tax hike still got reelected and Virginia was named “best managed state.”
What did Warner think of the rough reception he got from some in the audience?
“If I don’t like this, I’m in the wrong business,” he answered.