U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va) stopped by the Northern Neck News Monday evening to discuss some of the topics that were brought to his attention by constituents in the Northern Neck and Virginia’s Tidewater Region.
Warner had just come from touring the Rappahannock Oyster Company in Topping and observed that there was a lot of pride in relation to the restoration of area oyster populations that is in turn creating new jobs and business for the region.
Warner spoke with veterans in Gloucester, visited the Hampton VA on Friday and noted frustrations with the reported inefficiencies of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“When these horrible stories started coming out in June, it was almost like it’s opened a floodgate and there’s virtually no place I go, not just in the ‘Neck, where I don’t get people coming up and they’ve read that I’m trying to get into the VA and see what we can do to fix it,” Warner said. “We’ve passed legislation, but it’s not just money—how do you change the culture?”
Warner added he has heard from people who are frustrated with Washington and “the blame game.”
“At least the people that I’m seeing want folks to be bipartisan, they want them to … try to work together,” Warner said. “When you just kind of greet people, restaurants or on the street, you get a lot of ‘Hey, hang in there, keep working at it,’ and they know I’m trying to approach things in a bipartisan fashion.”
Concerns with possible fracking in the region
Warner was asked about potential fracking operations that could take place in the Taylorsville Basin. Land has been leased in Westmoreland, Essex, Caroline, King George and King and Queen counties for fracking purposes.
“As somebody who lives part-time in the ‘Neck, I have concerns as well,” Warner said. “I’m not by any means anti-fracking, but I have some questions about whether this ought to be the region and I think we need some more science done.
Warner said that, with both the Rappahannock and the Potomac rivers in the vicinity, there needed to be a higher level of scrutiny.
“I don’t want to do anything after years of us trying to restore the Bay that could end up with an accident causing huge challenges,” Warner said, adding he needed more education in terms of potential fracking in the region.
Warner said he hears more about student debt than he does about the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”
He noted people’s concerns with younger people coming out of college and university with $30,000-$60,000 of debt.
“I’ve got some ideas—could we refinance the student debt? Could you do more income-based repayments so people could start at a cheaper job or take more chances being young, and then pay out over a longer term?” Warner said, noting that his ideas were bipartisan in nature with Republican partners on board.
He pointed out one idea where an employer could tell his/her employees to take up to $5,000 of their salary that could be applied directly against their student debt.
“It’s a good retention tool and that would mean the employee would get that money pre-tax,” Warner said.
Affordable Care Act
When he does hear about “Obamacare,” Warner said that while there are many people who are both for and against it, several people are tired of it being used as “political football” and are saying, “Just go fix it.”
“They like the part about … somebody with pre-existing condition [getting] health insurance, they like the idea of… a younger person staying on their parent’s plan until you’re 26, or women being treated as equal as men,” Warner said, adding he believes that there should be a cheaper option, particularly for younger people, that he termed the “copper plan.”
Warner also said he has legislation that would cut back on some of the reporting requirements for small businesses. He spoke to ensuring there were consumer protections in place.
“I don’t mind insurance products being sold across state lines, so if we bring more competition to a market, great!” Warner said.
“I don’t think a lot of that will get acted on until after the election,” he noted.
Proposed rule for reducing carbon pollution
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule that would require a 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants within the next 30 years.
Warner said that China and India are building 800 new coal plants over the next 10 years.
“What I hope we can find is cleaner ways to use coal as a transition to different fuels, and I think that the way we’re going to do that is by incenting the American coal industry to find ways to use it cleaner, because I think that actually helps you in terms of the world,” Warner said.
Warner said he continues to be “obsessed about trying to get our nation’s debt under control, and that will require a bipartisan solution.”
“That will require the Democrats willing to move on entitlement reform, the Republicans willing to move on tax reform and I strongly believe that we need to hire people who are going to be more willing to find common ground,” Warner said. “That’s why every major piece of legislation I work on, I start with a Republican partner.”
Warner indicated that he shared in people’s frustration in Washington.
“But if you kind of turn off and tune out, you turn control over to the extremes on either end of the political spectrum,” Warner said. “That’s not the way in America or in Virginia that we get problems solved.”