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Former Rep. Davis Warns Nation ‘Flying Into a Mountain’ on Debt, Deficit Crises

IMG_3176Falls Church Remarks Paint Grim View With Impasse in Congress

A former popular congressman from Northern Virginia painted an uncustomarily bleak picture of the nation’s economic future to a joint meeting of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and Merrifield Business Association this week.

Falls Church Remarks Paint Grim View With Impasse in Congress

A former popular congressman from Northern Virginia painted an uncustomarily bleak picture of the nation’s economic future to a joint meeting of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce and Merrifield Business Association this week.

The Hon. Tom Davis, a moderate Republican who served in the U.S. House from 1994 until his retirement in 2008, said it has been liberating for him not to measure his commentaries against either re-election considerations or party correctness, and the picture he painted of the state of the U.S. political process, and how it may play out, he was anything but Pollyanna. About the national debt and deficit crises, “We are like an airplane flying into a mountain,” he said.

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FALLS CHURCH CHAMBER of Commerce Board Chair Michael Ankuma (foreground) grins in response to a joke told by former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (at the podium) as Davis began his remarks to a joint luncheon of the Chamber and the Merrifield Business Association Tuesday at the Italian Cafe. (Photo: News-Press)

The standing-room-only crowd packed into the Italian Cafe Tuesday listened intently as Davis, now director of federal relations for Deloitte LLP, a lecturer at George Mason University and vice chair of the Metropolitan Airports Authority, bemoaned a mood in Congress now where 89 of 435 members voted “no” to an extension of the U.S. debt ceiling with no conditions.
He said that when 40 cents of every dollar spent by the U.S. is borrowed, a genuine debt crisis has developed. The extension of the Bush tax cuts last December, he noted, increased the debt by $850 billion.

Moreover, he said, the Congress is not inclined to work together to find practical solutions. He cited a study published in the National Journal showing that the most conservative Democrat is more liberal than the most liberal Republican. “It’s very polarized,” he said, adding that “911, two failed wars, Katrina and the recession have created many unhappy campers.”

The sides are now “ideologically sorted,” he said, and the “new media” helped to polarize the public, with 25 percent of Americans thinking President Obama was born in Kenya as a result, and the lack of any filters on the Internet. “Nowadays, you turn on what you want to hear. It’s a good business model, as these new outlets become the entertainment wings of their parties.”

Campaign finance reform has also worsened the situation, he said. The recent Supreme Court decision has empowered anonymous special interest groups to pour limitless funds into campaigns. Whereas the two political parties have historically been “centering forces” in society, interest groups are now prevailing over parties in elections.

It’s having a “chilling effect” on anyone serious about politics, who now must worry more about “ticking off” a special interest group than good governance.

In this context, reducing the national deficit will be “much more difficult,” Davis said. “It may take a make tremor from the market” to bring people to their senses.

“You can’t mess around with it (the debt ceiling-ed.),” he said. “A one percent rise in interest rates adds $120 billion to the deficit.”

“It’s a serious situation requiring serious compromise,” he went on. “Already the U.S. debt to Gross Domestic Product rate is higher than for just about any other country besides Greece.”
But he added that he is “not optimistic” about any “meaningful agreement,” with maybe only a “short term, duct tape” measures for the foreseeable future.

“We have two dysfunctional parties,” Davis said. “If Obama and Boehner were to hammer out a compromise, it would be undone by Hannity or Rush before Boehner made it back to the Capital, or by Rachel Maddow before Obama got back to the Oval Office.”

Not only this, he said, but it takes 60 votes to get anything passed in the Senate now, and retirees (veterans, pensions, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) take up two-thirds of what we spend.

“You can bet the Chinese are not doing this,” he intoned.

He blamed income disparity in the U.S. on the failure of education to provide the quality workers “for jobs that CEO’s can’t fill.”

When asked about China, and its overwhelming use of state intervention, Davis cited Tom Friedman’s book, “Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution,” where the author said it might be good if the U.S could be “like China for just one day.” He made sure the audience understood that only “one day” was suggested.

But he reiterated that “little changes” won’t fix the nation’s problems now. “We’re an airplane flying into a mountain. If the politicians can’t act seriously now, the markets will take care of it by crashing and burning.”

Asked about his political future, whether he might come back to resume his 29 years to date of elective office serving on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and in Congress,” Davis shook his head. “People ask me if I miss Congress. I ask them back if they miss high school.”
But he conceded that “I never say never.”

For the time being, in addition to his duties at Deloitte and the Airports Authority, he enjoys leading a class at George Mason University entitled “Parties, Campaigns and Elections” that he teaches jointly with Rep. Jim Moran. Most of it, he said, takes the form of a friendly debate between Moran, a Democrat, and himself.

 

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