The Top Story: Democrats taking up mantle of fiscal responsibility
The Top Story by Chris Graham
Democrats have been doing well in Virginia in recent years, and it’s no secret why. They’ve been balancing budgets and building the economy. And while national Democrats are using a “more of the same” theme to link GOP presidential nominee John McCain to the failed presidency of George W. Bush, “more of the same” has a different ring for Virginia Democrats.
“My view of a fiscal conservative is somebody who pays your bills, and you don’t pass on your debts. Both parties have been irresponsible in Congress. And we pay the price with the declining dollar that ends up being a hidden tax,” said Mark Warner, the popular former governor now running as the odds-on favorite to be the next junior United States senator from Virginia, striking that familiar chord that swept him to victory in his 2001 gubernatorial race, made Virginia competitive for a time in the 2004 presidential race, made a comeback in 2005 with Tim Kaine’s governor’s race win and then pushed the Commonwealth into a full-blown political realignment with Jim Webb’s historic 2006 Senate win.
Warner, Kaine and Webb are all fiscal conservatives and social moderates who have taken the Democratic Party of Virginia in a new direction – a winning direction, sure, but it’s a winning direction because of the laser-like focus on pocketbook issues.
I mentioned something along those lines to Warner during our annual walk up the hill from the Buena Vista Labor Day parade to Glen Maury Park on Monday – and then talked specifically about how he had told me during our trek up to Glen Maury that he thought 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was missing the point big-time by letting the focus of that election be on his record of service in Vietnam and not on the economy.
“Do you think Democrats are doing a better job this time around putting the focus where it needs to be?” I asked him on Monday.
“I think we’re doing it more, but I think you’ve got to bring it down to, All right, how does this translate into some specific things that will help people’s lives. I think people concerned about how we’re in a dangerous world, but we’ve got to have jobs, we’ve got to have gas. People’s concerns are mostly the economy. Obviously we have to talk about how to keep the country protected, but one of the ways is with a strong economy,” Warner said, hitting on a theme that he highlighted in his keynote address to last week’s Democratic National Convention.
The new Virginia Democratic Party is evident in Warnerites like Sam Rasoul, the Democratic nominee in the Sixth District, who today in Verona held a press conference to talk up his proposal for an Earmark Eradication Act of 2009 that would strike at the heart of the congressional appropriations process.
“Let me make clear the difference between the projects that these earmarks fund and the process by which we fund them. Many of these projects are well-warranted. We need them. Many of our local economies are dependent upon these projects. What we disagree with and what we’re fighting against here is the process by which we fund these projects, that a congressperson can arbitrarily attach onto almost any bill the fact that they would like some funding for a special project. We can no longer allow the special interests and the buddies of these congresspersons to spend our federal taxpaying dollars,” Rasoul said standing on the steps of the Augusta County Government Center.
Of note is that Rasoul’s Republican incumbent opponent, Bob Goodlatte, has taken on a much more tolerant view of the earmarks process, telling The News Leader in June that he isn’t a fan of the current earmarks process, but he continues to make earmarks requests for his district because not doing so would mean that Sixth District constituents would end up paying taxes to support other’s earmarks without getting their own piece of the pie.
“I’m happy to set the tone here in Western Virginia that there is a moderate voice that believes in fiscal responsibility,” Rasoul said, noting the infamous Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska that has resurfaced in the discussions of contemporary politics with the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to run on the GOP national ticket. Palin noted last week that she had told Congress “thanks, but no thanks” regarding the funding for the bridge project without noting that she had supported the bridge project while running for governor in 2006 and that she had authorized the use of the monies for the project that came from Congress for other projects in Alaska.
That’s one way to say that you’re fiscally conservative, certainly. Another is to back a substantive reform to the process a la Rasoul, whose Earmark Eradication Act would put projects through the same process that other federal appropriations go through, most notably an up-or-down vote. “These types of projects need to be going through some type of responsible process so that they are judged on their merits,” Rasoul said today.
It’s not just an esoteric, academic exercise, balancing budgets and getting federal spending in order. “We’re weakening the American dollar,” Staunton City Councilman and 2005 Democratic Party 20th House District nominee Bruce Elder told me today after the Rasoul event in Verona. “This is all borrowed money. We’re funding a half-trillion dollar war. And the other four trillion dollars of this debt is tax relief for the very wealthiest. And what it’s done is you can follow that track over the last eight years to what’s happened to the American dollar on the international exchange, and it’s put us at a competitive disadvantage, and it’s put the American worker at a competitive disadvantage.”
Which is to say, the inability of Congress and the president to get our federal budgets in line even once during the George W. Bush era – indeed, the only president in the last 35 years to sign a balanced budget was Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and he did so twice – actually has a negative effect on your daily lives, from the amount that you have to pay for gas at the pump to what you pay for your mortgage to the purchasing power of what you buy at Wal-Mart even to the kind of job you have and how much longer you’ll have it.
Whether that translates to how you vote at the polls on Nov. 4 is another question entirely.
“It depends on who you are. If you’re a Democratic voter, you think economic issues are the most important. If you’re a Republican voter, you think the national-security issue is more important. The independent voters are up for grabs. And whoever makes the best case for their view probably wins,” James Madison University political-science professor Bob Roberts said, and in so doing seized upon a solid point.
We don’t always vote our interests. Which is probably why we’re in the mess that we’re in right now.