The bipartisan budget deal reached in Congress is expected to bring a lot of relief to the commonwealth of Virginia, though Virginia lawmakers still say it isn’t perfect.
Fear of another government shutdown early next year is dissipating here at the Capitol. The agreement increases federal spending by about forty five billion dollars, sets spending levels for the next two years and offers federal agencies some relief from sequestration. Virginia Republican Congressman Randy Forbes says is giving the agreement muted praise.
“This deal is not a step forward but it is an inch forward and sometimes an inch forward is better than continuing to skyrocket downward.”
Forbes and other Republicans in the commonwealth have been especially concerned with how sequestration has impacted the state’s military installations. Without the new budget deal a second round of sequestration cuts would have begun in January. That was expected to halt construction of an aircraft carrier being built in Newport News, which could have cost forty four hundred Virginians their jobs. Forbes says avoiding that is a relief.
“We have also continually kept the defense of this country in an unpredictable and an unstable position. What this agreement will do I think is at least stabilize that. It will give them predictability which they dramatically need.”
Virginia Republicans are lining up behind the deal, but some outside conservative organizations with lots of money are railing against it. They say a new user fee on airline passengers amounts to a tax increase, and they argue the plan increases spending when they want to see further cuts. Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith is still undecided but says he understands that both sides had to give up things they care about in the negotiations.
“I would like to see more spending reduction as opposed to the increase, but it is a compromise so I’m looking at it to see if it’s a compromise I can live with.”
Virginia Republican Scott Rigell supports the plan. He says the outside conservative groups ailing against it aren’t helping the debate.
“They’re tasked with growing their donor list, and, yes, advancing the cause that they think is important. But they are not the ones having to make the difficult decisions. Where is the viable alternative?”
Rigell says the relief the budget brings to the military, especially in his Virginia Beach district, makes it worthy of his support.
“I believe if they vote ‘no’ they ought to say what they’re for. And if it’s just to sit there and hunker down and not relieve sequester at all, well then I’d like them to the next meeting of the commandant of the Marine Corps and the chief of Naval operations. Let them sit in on those meetings and see if they still hold the same view.”
Then there’s the bills impact on federal workers and contractors in the commonwealth. Republicans had hoped to save twenty billion dollars by forcing current federal workers to contribute more to their pensions, but the final package doesn't touch them. It does collect six billion dollars in revenue from new hires in the federal government. Northern Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly says he can accept that even though he doesn’t like it.
"That’s a hold my nose yes vote. Hold my nose because the tradeoff is we address sequestration, which is really hurting federal workers and my state especially, and we don’t shut down the government again. So everything is a tradeoff here.”
Connolly worries that provision combined with earlier federal pay freezes could hurt the government’s ability to attract outstanding job candidates.
“Every additional whack at federal employees and their benefits and their disparagement of their workplace, I think makes it harder to recruit the skilled workforce of the future and retain it. And frankly it increasingly looks like that’s the design of my friends on the other side. And I decry it, I condemn it. I think it’s very shortsighted and is going to hurt the citizens we serve.”
But all told, Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine says the plan provides relief to the commonwealth, which has been caught in the crosshairs of this gridlocked Congress.
“Getting a deal for two years means two years without brinksmanship, furloughs, shutdowns. The effect of the shutdown and the furloughs on Northern Virginia has been massive and not only on federal workers but also on so many federal contractors and the business that are supported by the incomes of Northern Virginia households.”
The House is expected to take up the measure today. If it passes the Senate will take it up next week. If it fails, the commonwealth can expect more uncertainty and deeper budget cuts in the New Year.