RESTON, Va. – They might need a miracle, but Virginia’s two U.S. senators are fighting against the sequester cuts.
“Sequester is going to be worse than people expect,” says Sen. Mark Warner.
He and fellow Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine spoke to about 160 members of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, one of the largest IT associations in the country, in Reston on Friday.
Reston is part of Virginia’s hi-tech corridor and folks here are nervous about the looming $1.2 trillion worth of spending cuts spread over the next 10 years. Known as sequestration, the severe cuts are intended to force Congress and the White House to reduce the nation’s growing debt.
The cuts are expected to hit Northern Virginia hard because of the numerous defense and other federal contractors based in the region. And the hi-tech industry, which serves and benefits from the federal government, is bracing for tough times ahead.
Bobbi Kilberg, NVTC president and CEO, says the council invited the senators to talk because they are worried.
“We have a community in the technology arena that’s very, very concerned about an arbitrary across the board sequester. We need a better understanding of how to grapple and deal with it. It’s going to affect the Northern Virginia economy in a major way,” Kilberg says.
The sequester was designed to be so painful that lawmakers would never allow the cuts to kick in. But on March 1, the first round of $85 billion cuts take effect and Warner believes there is little chance Congress will act in time to avert the pain.
However he hopes to minimize the damage and is making a last ditch effort with Republican colleagues to find a solution. Warner says the best option is to eliminate sequestration and put a comprehensive plan in place.
“Replace it with a balance of some additional cuts, some additional revenues. And start down the path of a more comprehensive approach,” he says.
Warner stresses that such a plan would also require a willingness from Republicans to raise revenue and for Democrats to embrace entitlement reform as part of the mix.
Warner says he’s working with some Republican colleagues but he’s doubtful a plan will be ready by the March 1 deadline. Warner and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., have been working for several years to develop a bipartisan consensus on how to address government spending, rein in spending and reform the tax code.
Both Warner and Kaine, who just started his first term in January, agree that there’s plenty of blame to go around but it’s time to try and fix the problem.
“There are members on both sides that say let sequestration happen. They don’t understand the ramifications. They don’t understand the real affect of how it will cost taxpayers more than it saves,” Warner says.
Kaine advocates for accepting the first year of sequestration reductions and incorporating them into a budget, which would give lawmakers more control over where to make the cuts.
“Tough decisions are best made as part of an ordinary budget process rather than a one-off sequester that no one ever thought was a good idea,” Kaine said in statement released earlier this week after he spoke to a group of defense contractors in Arlington.