Four members of Virginia’s U.S. congressional delegation gathered in these indeterminate times before an audience at the Tysons Corner offices of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce Monday to talk about the direction things may be going with the regime change coming at the White House, and what can, should or shouldn’t be done about it.
Incumbent Republican in the 10th (McLean-Loudoun) District of Virginia, Rep. Barbara Comstock rattled off with barely repressed glee that with Donald Trump coming into the presidency next month and Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, action on the federal sequester, on Metro, on tax and health care “reform,” on “over-regulation,” including a quick removal of Obama administration executive order mandates, will all be ready to happen.
Democrats on the panel were not smiling. Reps. Don Beyer and Gerry Connolly of the region’s 8th (Falls Church, Arlington, Alexandria) and 11th (Fairfax) Districts were not looking so happy. Both focused attention on bi-partisan things they would like to see get done the next couple years, joined by Republican Rep. Rob Wittman of the lst (Tidewater) District. Rep. Connolly said, “All 11 of us (U.S. congressmen from Virginia) speak with one voice when it comes to supporting the military in our state, including cybersecurity.”
But Connolly was also the most outspoken critic of Trump on the panel, saying that some of the changes he will bring, as outlined by Comstock, represent “a very cataclysmic situation.”
Connolly said he’s worried about the breakdown of the world trading system, a dismantling of the Trans-Pacific Partnership “where China will fill the vacuum” and other developments that “resemble the renunciation of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I” that led to huge economic displacements, the rise of authoritarian regimes and World War II.
“Trump has already created uncertainty that we’re very concerned about,” he said. “His personal interventions against Boeing and Carrier has led to an uncertainty that is already threatening the current string of 79 consecutive months of private sector job creation and an unemployment rate that has sunk to 4.6 percent.”
Beyer said he was concerned that the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the U.S. and the European Union remain intact.
Connolly said that U.S. organized labor was misdirected in its opposition to these large international trade agreements because it is technology, and not these agreements, that are taking away their traditional jobs. “I was at a BMW plant in Munich last year, and we toured the plant for 10 minutes before we saw a single human. It was all robots.”
“A higher skill set is required,” he added, and Wittman chimed in about the impact of the driverless trucks (and other “unmanned autonomous systems”) that are coming down the pike. He hailed the dredging of the harbor at the Port of Virginia that will make it the only one of the U.S. east coast that can land some of the huge ships that can now make it through the revamped and expanded Panama Canal.
But Connolly returned to his concerns about the impact of Russia both in violating the sovereignty of states in its region, its support for Assad, and the evidence that it interfered with the electoral process in the U.S. “This is a very troubling development,” he said, “which is complicated by Trump’s denigrating NATO.”
Beyer said he’s “ambivalent about self-driving cars and a robot economy,” adding, “Where is meaningful work going to come from?” He cited the statistic that now fully one in eight young adults are not in the work force.
He said he hopes that progress can be made going forward in higher education reforms, by extending Pell Grants to year-round education, by refinancing student loan debt, and by extending the model of free community college to the entire nation, spurring a new K-14 approach to public education.
Wittman said that extending access to high speed broadband Internet access to rural areas of the country will “level the playing field.”
Connolly lashed out at Comstock’s comments about health care reform, saying “I couldn’t disagree more.” He said, “Republicans have had eight years to come up with an alternative plan to Obamacare, which has added 20 million to the insured so that now the uninsured is the lowest number in the history of the U.S., and has lowered costs. What will replace it?”
Comstock insisted the GOP has a plan that includes keeping coverage for preexisting conditions and the ability of children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.
Beyer said that he remains concerned that access to long-term birth control to stem, among other things, unplanned teen pregnancies, be recognized as an important national health issue.
Moreover, he said, “97 percent of scientists say that global warming is the greatest threat that humanity faces. We need a functional and moral leadership to address issues like this and others.”