In an hour-long telephone “town hall” with, according to his aides, 12,000 constituents listened in and a select number asked questions, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly said tonight that deep cuts in the federal defense budget included in this week’s vote to raise the debt ceiling should not bear heavily on the Northern Virginia region.
Connolly said that, despite the high number of defense-related government contractors that have made the region the “Silicon Valley of the East,” deep cuts in the federal budget will be “not in the areas where Northern Virginia companies shine.”
He said the focus here is on sophisticated cyber-security, robotics and intelligent uses of technology, and that as such, the region could actually benefit from a drawback of more traditional U.S. military efforts worldwide, where more advanced technologies can be deployed instead. “What we do here will be in greater demand and the Pentagon shrinks,” he said.
Because of this region’s “broad economic base,” he added, “It will keep us vibrant.” He said that the cuts totaling $2.5 trillion in 10 years contained in the bill that passed this week “cannot be done with a meat cleaver. He have to preserve investment in research and development, in infrastructure and human capital to maintain the ability of the economy to recover.”
In his opening comments, Connolly expressed concern for the impact of the recent negotiations in Congress that led to the debt ceiling vote Tuesday. He noted that the deep federal budget cuts included in the agreement may cause bond rating agencies to downgrade the ratings of Fairfax and Prince William counties, and Virginia as a whole, citing remarks by the Moody’s agency to that effect. Connolly said his experience on the Fairfax County Board, and as its chair, showed him that lower borrowing costs save hundreds of millions of dollars for the county’s taxpayers. He said he reluctantly voted for the debt ceiling package only because the alternative, a defeat, would have been “catastrophic.”
He also expressed concern for the recent steep drop in the stock market, including by 513 points in the Dow today, noting that the drop has been over 1,000 points in the last two weeks, and that poor domestic production, housing, manufacturing and jobs numbers in the U.S. are conjoined with economic troubles in Asia and Europe to create the current troubling situation.
Connolly, who took questions fielded by his press secretary Geore Burke by phone, as well as from Facebook and Twitter, also spoke on the push to restore funding to the FAA, the human rights crisis in Syria, transportation woes facing Northern Virginia, telework legislation, solutions to the national manufacturing malaise and the process that transformed the nation from a federal surplus in 2000 to a record deficit now (according to him, from a $5.7 trillion surplus in 2000 to a $6.7 trillion deficit now due to a tax cut costing $3.5 trillion in the last decade, and $3.5 trillion more in the next 10 years, unpaid wars costing $1.67 trillion, an unpaid Medicare benefit and the great recession).