Virginia Democrat Sen. Mark Warner fielded questions from members of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce Friday, taking on a wide range of subjects ranging from manufacturing and energy to sequestration.
Warner said on sequestration, or deep congressionally mandated cuts to the nation’s budget, that if these cuts happen, Virginia could suffer greatly.
“Sequestration is not the right way. It’s a blunt instrument,” he said, speaking at United Way International headquarters in Old Town. “It will completely kill the military.” These cuts apply to both defense and non-defense spending.
He suggested – and said it’s not a popular idea – to look at the military’s health care plan and military pay as ways to cut spending.
The Alexandria resident and former governor said “if you turn on the TV,” it may seem like one political party or another is to blame for the (sequestration) situation, but, he said: “We all bear responsibility…It’s simple. We cut revenues and taxes and at the same time doubled defense spending and went to war twice.”
And he doesn’t see the country experiencing the boom in government contracting that it’s seen “over the last 10 years.”
He agreed with a member of the audience, saying the nation really doesn’t have an energy plan and said if “we wind back the clock,” President Obama might have been better off focusing on an energy plan rather than healthcare.
“We’ve lost our lead on alternative energies,” he said, but added that the administration critics focus on problems like solar panel maker Solyndra that declared bankruptcy shortly after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from the Obama administration, rather than on the many similar companies that have performed well.
Warner discussed manufacturing and the economy, saying the nation needs to do a better job in-sourcing jobs and bringing them to rural areas. “If we can build [a factory] in China, we need to build it in rural Virginia.”
Warner, the founder of telecommunications firm Nextel, added that the country could use a national economic development plan.
“When Virginia is competing against Korea, we just can’t put the same package together,” but added that when Virginia competes with California “we can eat their lunch.”
Warner said he still believes the United States is home to the “best and the brightest,” but that it’s “crazy” that we educate some of the smartest people in the world only to send them back to their home countries.
He said the country would never have experienced the tech boom of the 1990s if the post-9/11 immigration policies were in place at that time.
He also said the nation needs to do a better job of attracting foreign tourists, saying if it takes 12 weeks to get a visa to enter the United States as a tourist, fewer people will have the incentive to visit.
Warner noted that every 1 percent of tourism increase to the United States equals 128,000 new jobs, adding that “investors tour before they invest.”