Congress Gets Busy

Sep 10, 2013

As Congress resumes this week after its month long break there are a lot of pressing issues facing lawmakers that have a big impact on the economy in Virginia.

A handful of Virginia lawmakers were some of the loudest voices calling for Congress to fore go its August break and get serious negotiations underway on budget issues.

That didn't happen, as lawmakers fanned out across the country...vacationing a tad while also pressing a lot of flesh with voters. Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine says Republican’s refusal to even begin budget negotiations has left federal agencies, contractors, and businesses in the state reeling from uncertainty.

“We’re not going to be able to solve sequester or anything if people are unwilling to talk. The Senate, we have a budget; we want the House to just sit down with us and start trying to find a compromise," said Kaine.

While lawmakers in both parties are increasingly voicing frustration over the budget caps in place from sequestration, it doesn’t look like the debate has changed at all on Capitol Hill. Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith says the ball is in the White House’s court.

“Well sequestration is going to be the law of the land until the president is willing to come up with cuts to offset, in exchange for, in lieu of sequestration. That’s a deal he made in August 20-11. And it’s hard to get him to keep deals. So that deal is set," said Griffith.

Virginia lawmakers basically agree the budget caps are bad for the military and businesses that depend on its large presence across the state. Virginia Republican Congressman Scott Rigell says that’s why sequestration needs to be unwound.

“We cannot saddle up to that idea. Our military reels in uncertainty every time that this happens. We have a moral obligation to get this right up here," said Rigell.

But lawmakers still can’t find common ground on how to rearrange the budget cuts. Republicans, like Virginia Congressman Rob Wittman, want to keep sequestration funding levels in place, but with more money moved to the Pentagon while slashing social programs deeper.

“We still have the idea of the budget ceiling, which I think needs to stay in place. But it really means that when we make decisions about defense spending that we preserve the dollars there that we know are needed to maintain this nation’s readiness and to make sure we are supporting the men and women that serve this nation. We have always done this as a nation," he said.

Lawmakers have until September 13th to work out a new spending deal or else the federal government will shutdown. It’s increasingly looking like they’ll just punt once again and pass a short term funding bill that keeps sequestration in place. Griffith recognizes even passing that won’t be easy with just nine legislative days slated for all of September.

“Dealing with the Continuing Resolution or funding the government – absolutely, it’s going to be a big burden for us to try to tackle in September. And with religious holidays knocking out a big chunk of our time, the time is not as great as we might like.”

Lawmakers also need to raise the debt ceiling by about mid-October or else the nation risks defaulting, which could cripple the state’s economy.

Virginia Democratic Congressman Jim Moran says he fears Republicans aren’t going to negotiate in good faith. “When you’ve got a speaker who says, ‘judge us by the bills we repeal, not those we pass,’ well that’s a pretty good indication. They have no interest in building up this country and improving it and meeting its challenges.”

Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly is growing increasingly pessimistic about the outlook. “How are we going to pass a budget, how are we going to end sequestration, how are we going to address the debt ceiling in nine legislative days?”

One can only hope the nation’s lawmakers got some rest in August, because they’re going to need lots of energy now that the Syria debate has been stacked on top of an already overflowing plate.