Earlier this month, our readers submitted questions for Patch's Ask the Candidates forum.
Candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives in Virginia's 11th District are giving their answers this week on Patches across the district.
Today, Democratic incumbent Congressman Gerry Connolly answers questions from Patch readers. His responses appear unedited below.
You can read responses from other candidates who responded to the survey throughout the week here.
How will sequestration affect Northern Virginia? If elected, do you intend to fight it?
My top priority is protecting and enhancing Northern Virginia’s economy. That economy is built on a partnership between the federal government and the private sector. Therefore any drastic reduction in federal spending — whether from sequestration or from the Ryan budget supported by my Republican opponent — would have a devastating impact on our region. That is why I voted against the Ryan budget and am working to prevent sequestration.
It is important to remember that sequestration is the result of House Republicans nearly allowing our nation to default on its financial obligations. Given the fact that those same House Republican leaders now say that sequestration is a crisis, I called for a cancellation of both the August and October congressional recesses. We should be back at work trying to resolve this crisis now, instead of punting until after the election. Ultimately, a balanced approach with both new revenue and spending reductions must be part of the solution and I will work with Democrats and Republicans to achieve comprehensive deficit reduction. We will avert sequestration.
Do you support Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPAC) (also called Obamacare, or the federal health care law)?
I was proud to support the Affordable Care Act because I believe the current system is too expensive and gives too much power to the insurance companies. Because of the Affordable Care Act, Northern Virginia families are already seeing lower costs, better quality of care, and meaningful insurance reforms.
Soon it will be illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or take away coverage when people get sick. The dependent eligibility age has gone up from 22 to 26, allowing thousands of Northern Virginia families to keep young adults on their parents’ policies. Copayments and deductibles for preventive care have been eliminated under private plans and Medicare, saving families and seniors hundreds of dollars a year. Additionally, we are finally closing the Medicare Prescription Drug donut hole and providing a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs, saving seniors thousands. Small businesses are receiving tax credits up to 35 percent of the cost of coverage to make providing health insurance more affordable so they can stay competitive. On top of all that, the Affordable Care Act will reduce the federal budget deficit by $138 billion over the next 10 years and $1.2 trillion in the following decade.
How do you differ from your opponents on defense issues?
First, let me say that I honor my Republican opponent for his service to our nation in the military. I am proud to represent tens of thousands of military families and believe there is no duty more sacred than providing for their well-being. Every single day I fight to ensure they have full health coverage, better pay, and access to quality veterans' services throughout their lives.
In my first term, I introduced and passed the Helping Active Duty Deployed Act to protect deployed service members from cell phone and housing lease early termination charges. I cosponsored legislation to prevent increases in TRICARE premiums, provide free postal benefits for troops in combat zones, provide disability compensation for PTSD, allow military retirees to pay their healthcare premiums with pre-tax dollars, require mental health and traumatic brain injury screenings, and provide education and support services for family caregivers.
I’m proud that Our Military Kids, an organization dedicated to helping military children, gave me their “Friend of Military Kids” award for my work on behalf of military families and that the Military Officers Association of America has consistently given me an “A+” rating for my work on behalf of the military and our veterans. Walking the walk, I’m proud to have hired a Wounded Warrior to work directly with veterans and military families from my Annandale District Office.
Government spending has increased significantly in the last few years. Do you have plans to change that?
According to the Congressional Budget Office, federal spending has increased at a rate of about 0.4 percent per year over the last four years. Under President Bush, federal spending increased from $2 trillion per year to $3 trillion per year, a 50 percent increase. So federal spending has increased in the last few years, but at a much slower rate of increase than in the previous decade.
The last time we balanced the federal budget was under Bill Clinton in the 1990s. At that time, federal spending was roughly 19 percent of GDP and federal revenues were roughly 19 percent of GDP. Today, federal spending is nearly 25 percent of GDP — too high. But federal revenues have slipped to roughly 15 percent of GDP — too low. The only way to balance the budget and get our fiscal house in order is to address both sides of the ledger by reducing our spending as a percentage of GDP and increasing our revenue. If both Democrats and Republicans are willing to set aside their respective orthodoxies to find common ground, we can accomplish this goal.
Many states, including Virginia, have received waivers of the No Child Left Behind Act and others have waivers pending. Are you willing to support a repeal of this law nationally?
My position on No Child Left Behind has been consistent and dates back to my time as Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. I believe that No Child Left Behind is an unfunded mandate on local governments and that it doesn’t take into account the needs and challenges of large, diverse school systems like that of Fairfax County. Without serious and substantive improvements, I will not vote to reauthorize the legislation.
What position do you have on requiring students with special needs and individualized education plans to take the same SOLs as their age-peers, regardless of how far behind academically they might be?
This issue serves to highlight the fundamental concerns I have with No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind requires that all students take tests according to their chronological grade level, not their developmental level and with little regard for their language proficiency. It can then label an entire school a failure based on those test results.
We should be measuring students and schools based on the amount of progress they make, while taking into account developmental and language-based challenges within the student population. Innovations like “plain English” math tests and other alternative testing options should continue to be developed so that students with special needs or limited English proficiency can be evaluated fairly.
What will you personally do in 2013 to ensure our nation recovers from the decades of irresponsible politicians who have put our future at great risk?
There is a great phrase in the song "America the Beautiful:" “Oh beautiful for patriot dreams that see beyond the years.” I believe that if you want to serve in public office, you have a responsibility to always try to “see beyond the years” and consider how the decisions you make will impact future generations with full knowledge that you might not even be around to see those impacts. That is what I have done throughout my career and will continue to do if the voters of the 11th District re-elect me on Nov. 6.
The Republican-controlled House has twice voted for the Ryan budget, which would cut $5.7 trillion from federal programs, replace Medicare by establishing a voucher system to help seniors and the disabled pay part of the cost of buying private insurance, and privatize Social Security. Since congressmen only have the ability to vote up or down on the plan, would you vote Yes or No for the Ryan budget if, as expected, it comes before Congress next year?
I have voted against the Ryan Budget every time it has come to to the floor of the House and I will do so again if need be. The Ryan Budget is a radical document that would make deep spending cuts in areas like Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, student loans, and transportation in order to finance yet another tax cut for millionaires.
My Republican opponent continues to embrace the Ryan Budget despite the fact that the domestic spending cuts it envisions would be devastating to Northern Virginia. It would threaten our federal workforce, raise student loan interest rates, and turn Medicare into a private voucher program, forcing our seniors to pay $6,000 more each year for health care coverage. The money that Paul Ryan and my Republican opponent would take from federal employees, college students, and seniors would not even go toward deficit reduction, but rather to finance a massive tax cut for millionaires and billionaires. That is not something I could ever support.
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, do you agree that actions taken by President Bush, including two unfunded wars, Medicare Part D, and the Bush tax cuts, all of which were not paid for, were the primary causes of the collapse of the economy in October 2008? Do you support President Obama's proposal to end the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 per year?
The Bush economic and other policies absolutely caused the record deficit that President Obama faced in 2008 and contributed to the economic collapse. In 2000, President Clinton left office with a budget surplus and we were actually paying down the federal debt. But President Bush’s reckless fiscal policies turned that surplus into a deficit and drove the economy to the brink of collapse. Two unfunded wars, huge tax cuts not offset, and a new unpaid-for drug benefit turned a projected surplus into a $6 trillion debt. Then came Bush’s Great Recession.
When I was sworn in to Congress in January 2009, we were shedding 700,000 jobs a month, the stock market had collapsed, and foreclosures were reaching record levels. Today, we are creating private sector jobs each and every month, the stock market has fully rebounded, and our real estate market is gaining strength. We have a lot of work left to do, but we are moving in the right direction.
Like Bill Clinton, I have supported temporary extension of all the Bush tax cuts, including those for higher-income households, because I don’t want to do anything that would threaten our economic recovery. But long term we cannot afford to permanently extend all of the Bush tax cuts.
There is a serious lack of funds for Northern Virginia transportation projects, including for the Silver Line. Do you think there should be more federal funding for these projects? What’s the right balance between federal, state and local funding?
Rail to Dulles has been my top transportation priority since I joined the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 1995. Today, Phase I is nearly complete and we are finalizing preparations to build Phase II. Over the past year, I have worked with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and a bipartisan group of regional leaders to cut nearly $1 billion in costs from the project, reducing the pressure to raise tolls on the Dulles Toll Road. Now I am working with Democrats and Republicans to secure federal bond financing that will bring down project costs, further easing the burden on Toll Road users.
This is an area where my Republican opponent and I disagree. I believe the federal government has a responsibility to help finance a rail link between our nation’s capital and its premier airport. There is absolutely no reason that Dulles Toll Road users should bear a disproportionate share of the burden. My Republican opponent has questioned the need for federal funding of Phase II and would presumably rely solely on tolls to finance the project, causing those tolls to skyrocket. I want to secure federal bond financing to reduce the pressure to raise tolls, thereby saving money for Northern Virginians who use the Dulles Toll Road.