U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, (R), kicked off an unusual mid-week town meeting at Gunston Elementary School last Thursday night by announcing, "A lot of us [in Congress] are not very comfortable with where we are today as it relates to the deficit."
Davis asserted, "There are three main causes for the growing deficit — spending increases, tax relief, and a weak economy."
With that, he proceeded to walk his 50-plus constituents on hand through a short slide presentation on federal spending, budgetary realities, and an overall appraisal of the national economy.
"The deficit is only 4.2 percent of the Gross National Product (GNP)," Davis explained. He also cited the Washington area's low unemployment rate of "less than three percent" compared to Silcon Valley in California with an unemployment rate of "over seven percent." He further noted, "The national rate is starting to fall. December's national average was 5.7 percent."
In juxtaposition, Davis said, "There are some members in Congress who feel we can grow our way out of this deficit. I'm not one of them."
In large part, he attributed the growing deficit to the "Supplemental budget passed to fight terrorism." It, he maintained, "has greatly impacted the debt."
Davis pointed out, "Two thirds of the federal budget is on autopilot." This is due to the entitlement programs such as "social security, medicare, and medicaid." He explained, "one half of all discretionary spending is for defense."
IN HIS BUDGETARY overview to the audience, Davis insisted, "We have to tackle the entitlement programs." This was coupled with his analysis, "Without [Bush's] tax cuts the economy would have worsened."
Following his slide presentation, Davis opened the floor to questions. These ranged from the war in Iraq to so-called "pork barrel" items. The latter category Davis was quick to explain were "not necessarily "pork barrel" items."
One constituent questioned, "How do we respond to the needs of the country as opposed to pork barreling? How are we ever going to save Social Security with $11 billion in pork barrel items in the budget?
Davis acknowledged that there was $11 billion in the appropriations bill attributed to "local projects." But, he said, "This is not necessarily pork barrel."
As an example, he reminded the audience, "We had money in there for Inova Mount Vernon Hospital and local transportation projects." Davis also emphasized, "We [House of Representatives] passed all the appropriation bills by September. The Senate hasn't passed any."
Returning to entitlement programs, Davis insisted, "The real spending is in the entitlement programs. Entitlement reform is very difficult. I don't see either leadership or a strategy coming the administration to solve this."
There were a series of questions relating to the war in Iraq. According to Davis, "The key to success in Iraq is to get out as soon as possible. We are hurting ourselves in the Muslim world with the American forces remaining there."
He also noted, "One of the administration's greatest problems is trying to get a new Iraq constitution drafted." He pointed out that feat did not happen overnight "when the founders of this nation drafted our constitution" and it was a much longer process to get it adopted.
"Whatever the route, the voters [of Iraq] must approve the new constitution. Clearly there are some groups who feel they are being left out by our formula," Davis said.
The questioner countered, "I feel we are going down the same road as the British after World War I. The process we are proposing has all the trappings of colonialism."
When asked if there was "any further word on the proposed partnership between DeWitt Army Hospital and Inova Mount Vernon Hospital," Davis deferred to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, who was in the audience.
"That is still being worked on. The main problem area is in obstetrics," Hyland explained.
ANOTHER HOT BUTTON for some in the audience was the Bush Administration's education initiative known as "No child left behind." Several questioned the wisdom of adopting a universal standard for judging competency. "This tries to make them [children] all equal," was the complaint.
Davis answered, "I don't think the SOL's [Standards of Learning] are too demanding. The idea of No Child Left Behind is that everybody is capable of learning if we will adapt programs for individuals."
On the subject of campaign spending reform, passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court, Davis expressed concern that "it was geared toward political parties and not the individual. My fear is that it has destabilized the parties. The two party system is the most stabilizing element of our political history."
He added, "When one party gets too far out of synch with the electorate, they get punished at the polls. That's the secret to our stable system."
Returning to a more local problem, he was queried, "When are we going to get Woodlawn Road reopened?" Davis predicted, "We are probably going to have to pass a bill to spend four or five million dollars to get a new road cut through the golf course."
On the subject of the new Laurel Hill development, to be located at the site of the former Lorton Prison, Davis said, "Our goal has always been to keep it low density." He again called on Hyland to give an update on the status from the perspective of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
"We expect that in the next two months the task force [studying the entire project] proposal will come to the Board," Hyland said. He also thanked Davis for all his help in dealing with both the acquisition and transformation of the Lorton Prison site as well as working toward a solution for Woodlawn Road and acquiring the baseball fields on Fort Belvoir for the Woodlawn Little League.
Finally, Davis was asked about the status of a proposed additional lane on the Beltway. Davis said, "We are going to put this into the Highway Trust Fund legislation."