WASHINGTON – Democrat Tim Kaine will be sworn in as Virginia’s newest U.S. Senator on Thursday. But he won’t be celebrating for long.
“I will be offering my thoughts and rolling up my sleeves right away,” he tells WTOP.
Kaine says he is optimistic about the freshman class he is joining when taking the oath of office. And at the top of his to-do list are several budget hurdles left by the 112th Congress.
“I’m real happy” that the Senate and House arrived at a deal to avert the “fiscal cliff” at the end of the 112th Congress, Kaine says. “But they left the spending issues for the 113th Congress to deal with and we got to deal with them quick.”
‘Cut for tomorrow, not for today’
Kaine will be joining the Senate Budget Committee and says he brings “some experience as a governor who had to shrink a state budget during a recession and do it without shredding the safety net or hurting the economy.”
He says there are two challenges currently that Congress faces:
Don’t sink a recovery – “The stock market was strong yesterday, housing is strong, there’s great predictions about auto sales in 2013, consumer confidence is up so we’re seeing some economic recovery … so you don’t want to jeopardize that,” he says.
Don’t shred the safety net – At a time when the unemployment rate remains high, a deal should protect unemployment benefits for more time as the economy continues to grow, according to Kaine.
Kaine says lessons he learned as governor in shrinking a state budget will help his colleagues.
The way to shrink a budget is “really line item by line item,” he says. “You have to look at governmental programs and you have to make priority judgments and you also have to look at performance data – what programs are producing a result and what programs aren’t. You can’t cut across the board.”
Kaine says he also used to tell his Virginia cabinet to “cut for tomorrow, not for today. Where do we want to be five years from now?”
Kaine says he also will be a proponent of broader tax reform.
“By making the tax code simpler and easier we might actually produce more economic activity and revenue,” he says.
Congressional culture change
“You can’t tackle hard issues if there’s not kind of a cooperative work-together spirit and I just haven’t seen enough of that,” Kaine says.
But he is hopeful, since he will join 15 other new senators.
“When you bring 15 new people into the body of 100, you really change the dynamic,” Kaine says.
Even though the newcomers are of different parties, he says there is a consensus.
“We all do have a sense that this is supposed to be a deliberative body about dialogue, listening, finding compromise – so easier said than done – but I do think the size of the entering class in the Senate will kind of scramble the equation and maybe open up some windows and get some fresh air in and helps us look at problems in a new way,” he says.
Kaine is scheduled to arrive at the U.S. Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber with two fellow Virginia Democrats, Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner. Kaine defeated Republican George Allen in November for the seat being vacated by Webb.
Kaine also brings to office the support of his family. His father-in-law, Linwood Holton, was Virginia’s Republican governor from 1970-74.
Kaine says Holton had some choice words for him on election night:
“‘Congratulations, I can’t think of anybody I would wish this on other than you.'”