Friday, August 5, 2011

Economy is the Main Issue During Connolly Town Hall

One of the big trends among folks on Capitol Hill has to hold telephone town halls with their constituents because it’s an easy way for them to reach out to thousands of people at one time. Rep. Gerry Connolly has been a big advocate of using this type of forum and he held his 11th telephone town hall since being elected (2nd of this Congress) last night. With so much attention given to the debt ceiling compromise, it shouldn’t be surprising that the economy and that vote were the main topics of discussion during the call.

In his opening statement, Gerry spoke out against the “overly partisan” tone of negotiations the led up to the debt ceiling compromise. He noted that even though Congress had taken the action to raise the debt ceiling at least 75 times, there were some people in Congress who were willing to put their political agenda ahead of the country’s ability to meet its obligations. I’ve heard Gerry take this position during statements on the floor of the House and to members of the press, so this was nothing new. Neither was his explanation that he voted for the package because he felt “the vote was between this package and a catastrophic default” and “not between this package and the ideal.”

What I hadn’t heard Gerry talk about was the impact that the debate had on the local economy. He expressed a lot of concern, for instance, about how Moody’s credit agency has said that the way things are going surrounding the negotiations might cause the bond rating agencies to downgrade the ratings of Fairfax and Prince William counties because of how closely the region is tied into the federal government. I’ve sat through countless meetings at the state and local level during my years as an organizer in Northern Virginia and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times keeping a AAA rating directly impacted how elected officials cast their votes on a certain issue. Perhaps in a hint of why that happens, Gerry pointed out on last night’s call that his experience on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors showed him how having the AAA rating allowed taxpayers to save hundreds of millions of dollars through lower borrowing costs.

After making his opening statement, Gerry took questions from folks on the call. To give you an idea of the questions, you can check a few highlights below “the fold.”

Noah from Lorton: Noah’s question was the first one asked and he expressed concern about “the atrocities” in Syria. Connolly responded by saying “I share you concern.” and highlighted how Hillary Clinton has recently said that the regime no longer had any legitimacy. Clinton’s statement might not sound like a lot to a domestic audience, but Gerry pointed out that this was sending a message in the diplomatic message. For what it’s worth, I was recently at a hearing held by a subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Syria and Iran. During that hearing, Gerry did go after the Obama Administration for not taking a stance on the situation that resonated with a domestic audience. It is the American people, after all, who have to provide the support for the policies our government takes. (I’ll be having more on this hearing soon).

During the call, Gerry also added that he believes the world should condemn the tactics used by the regime and that it should be the position of the American people to stand with those who support basic rights for the general public. “Clearly the Syrian people want to move on,” Gerry said.

Bob from Woodbridge: Bob said that he was appalled Congress went on recess before FAA issue was resolve and Gerry quickly said that he couldn’t agree more. In fact, he lobbied the leadership hard trying to have them reach an agreement before going on break. Part of his reasoning for wanting action is that we’re loosing about $200 million a week in revenue (at a time when we’re already concerned about the deficit), 4,000 FAA employees were furloughed (many of whom worked at the 3 airports in our region), and construction projects were halted which has an impact on the jobs of tens of thousands of folks working for private companies.

Gerry said that this emblematic of how there are some in Congress who are rigidly sticking to the ideology that we don’t need government and ignoring the consequences of not providing programs the funding they need. Not only has the failure to reach an agreement on the FAA situation impacted jobs, after all, but it prevents an organization responsible for keeping Americans safe from operating at its full capabilities.

Katie on twitter: Katie wanted to know why this Congress insists on using federal workers as a pawn in their political battles. With so many people in Northern Virginia working for the federal government, I’ve seen Gerry speak on numerous occasions about the value of the federal workforce. On last night’s call he said that public servants protect our communities and make an enormous contribution to our community. He therefore believes “it’s reprehensible to use [federal workers] as a punching bag.” The congressman also promised that he would continue to stand up for federal employees and that he would work to ensure that they don’t receive “the blunt of the blow” in future rounds of deficit reductions.

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