The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and its Hampton Roads Political Action Committee (HRBizPAC) hosted a U.S. Congressional Forum on October 15 at the Holiday Inn Virginia Beach-Norfolk Hotel & Conference Center. Congressman Randy Forbes, Congressman Scott Rigell, Congressman Bobby Scott, and Congressman Robert Wittman provided remarks and then answered questions from the audience. All four stressed that they work well with each other on regional issues.
This annual event provides the business community with the opportunity to hear directly from members of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding business issues and critical matters facing the nation. The Hampton Roads Chamber is a business advocate in national, state and local government and works closely with elected officials to create economic prosperity and enhance the quality of life.
Bryan K. Stephens, President & CEO of the Chamber, said, “Events such as this Congressional Forum allow Chamber members to gain access to decision makers and get involved in legislative issues that impact the business community. We intend to continue to host these type of events on a more frequent basis.”
Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA 3rd District) began by explaining that a major focus for Congress is on the upcoming sequester, $1.2 trillion in across the board cuts and all discretionary spending. Scott said, “One thing we need to do is deal with this sequester using numbers. We’ve been cutting spending so much that the CDC is trying to deal with Ebola. We have cut the NIH budget where we’ve tried to get cures and vaccines. The hospital preparedness budget at the CDC has been cut almost in half in the last few years. And now we wonder why these hospitals can’t deal with Ebola. The VA didn’t have enough doctors to ward off the long lines. We’ve cut $200 million from embassy security the year or two before Benghazi.” He added, “When you cut the budget, it has consequences. Ask what the numbers are.”
Scott shared his ideas of where to cut, saying he would cancel the $3.9 trillion extension of tax cuts, raise taxes by treating capital gains and dividends like ordinary income, eliminate the deduction for bond interest, a surcharge of 5% for more than $1 million of income and increase the limit for social security.
Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA 4th District) shared three issues that define why he believes the country is headed in the wrong direction. “You can talk about all the programs you want, but if we can’t get this economy lit up and doing well, you can’t fund any of those programs because government can’t fund it themselves,” Forbes said. He said that the country has more businesses across the country closing their doors, than opening.
“We have seen these cuts to the military that have taken place, $776 billion and then sequestration.” Forbes said that the chief of the Army would tell you that they could not guarantee we could win one conflict and we used to guarantee we could win two. The General doesn’t have enough to do around the world and there will be more cuts. Forbes told the crowd that the head of the Air Force says we have the smallest and oldest combat Air Force we have had in the history of the Air Force. And in next five years, he will have 50 percent less planes, equipment is falling apart and training hours have been cut. Regarding the Navy, Forbes explained that next year we will be 14 ships away from no longer being considered a “super power.”
Forbes says that the lack of American leadership is glaring. “People look at government today and they say it’s just not working,” said Forbes. He went on to say that Asia-Pacific countries have lost confidence in the U.S., saying that during a recent meeting with the Prime Minister of Singapore he said these countries will “sign agreements and treaties with bad guys instead of with the United States.”
Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA 1st District) told the audience that we are facing many challenges. He expressed the need to focus on education so that we have graduates who come out prepared for the workplace. Wittman said, “We need to focus on workforce development. Sixty percent of the new jobs in the future are going to be those that require a credential or certification. We need to make sure our job training and workforce development programs are focused on producing those graduates.” He said that there needs to be a connection between the business community and education at secondary level and higher education.
Wittman said, “We need to keep in mind what it takes to defend this nation. Chairing the Readiness Subcommittee, I can tell you that we are lacking in the training and the equipping of our force to meet the challenges around the world. We have to make investments to support our men and women in uniform.”
“Sixty-eight percent of the federal budget goes toward mandated programs, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, leaving 32% on the discretionary side,” said Congressman Scott Rigell (R-VA 2nd District). In six years, he said it will rise to 75%. There’s going to be continued compression on the discretionary side of the budget Rigell said.
Rigell is convinced that energy in this region represents the number one opportunity to grow the economy. Port, tourism and the military are our three economic pillars and Rigell believes energy exploration can before the fourth “stool,” saying it can bring 25,000 good paying jobs to this region.
“I think it is important to see our whole congressional delegation coming together and speaking about what they’re doing jointly to improve both our prospects here in Hampton Roads, across Virginia and across the nation,” said Kasia Grzelkowski, President and CEO of VersAbility Resources, and Chair of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber. She added, “Their discussion about real leadership being putting aside some of the areas where we may disagree but putting our country and our leadership and our obligations first.”
Thom Prevette, Director of Advocacy and Community Relations at Bon Secours Health System Hampton Roads, said,“What I think is encouraging is that the congressional delegation for Hampton Roads, regardless of where they view the issues, works together for the benefit of Hampton Roads. I hope and encourage them to try and move that same cooperative scenario to their entire Virginia delegation. And ultimately, as Randy said, ‘Change will come from the bottom up as opposed to leadership down,’ and that’s vital for us in the country and here in Hampton Roads today.”
Longtime Chamber member Wade Powell, President of Dale Carnegie Training of Eastern Virginia, commented how he appreciated, “getting to know really how they (the congressmen) think and feel and to see the way they handle their differences and how they still work together like a caucus for our area.”
The Chamber thanks the following sponsors: Bank of America (Presenting), Sentara Optima Health Plans (Gold), Bon Secours Virginia Health System and Regent University (Silver) and Cox Communications (Media). In addition, the Chamber thanks its Legislative Affairs Partners: Williams Mullen (Gold) and Clark Nexsen Architecture & Engineering and Verizon Communications (Silver).