Commentary

Warner can help bridge divides on budget

August 25, 2021 12:10 am

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., talks to reporters in 2019 at a breakfast in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. (Michael Bonfigli/ Christian Science Monitor)

By Tram Nguyen, Alexsis Rodgers and Ashley C. Kenneth

In the corridors of Congress, legislation is beginning to take shape that could help the country navigate this latest chapter of the pandemic and make historic investments in our infrastructure—but a final deal has yet to emerge. At a critical juncture like this, with so much at stake for American families, one senator — on account of his committee assignments and his history of public service — is playing an outsized role that could determine the fate of the budget reconciliation process. That person is the senior senator from Virginia, Mark Warner.

As Virginians from organizations like New Virginia Majority, Care in Action, Virginia Organizing, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, and Progress Virginia, we know that Senator Warner can bridge what may seem, at first blush, like intractable divides. As governor, he was able to build a bipartisan coalition, including more than two dozen Republicans, to raise over $1 billion in revenue for priorities like public education and strengthening Medicaid in Virginia. That experience negotiating with lawmakers of all stripes, while remaining focused on the most pressing priorities, is an asset in Washington, as demonstrated by the recent bipartisan infrastructure agreement.    

But time is of the essence. In Virginia, for example, there are currently 200,000 fewer jobs than in February 2020, the pre-pandemic baseline. Too many people are still struggling to make ends meet while new COVID-19 variants continue to trouble Virginians who are concerned about keeping their families safe. Against this backdrop, we need ambitious federal legislation — not only to build back our economy, but to reimagine it and make it more equitable in the future. 

For those reasons, as negotiations continue, we encourage Senator Warner to shape key aspects of the recovery legislation in the mold of President Joe Biden’s proposals. For Virginia alone, that would improve health care facilities for more than 725,000 veterans. It would expand health insurance to 94,000 people who are currently uninsured and create 14,700 new, living wage care jobs. It would lift nearly 90,000 kids out of poverty by extending the newly enhanced Child Tax Credits, which are set to expire at the end of the year without Congressional action. At the same time, we believe lawmakers should also prioritize other key investments called for by President Biden, including in the areas of housing and clean energy.

To pay for these investments, President Biden’s plan put forward several tax justice policies. These include closing wasteful tax loopholes for profitable corporations and reforming tax rates for capital gains, which would only impact 0.4 percent of all taxpayers in Virginia who are either millionaires or billionaires, and according to a recent Americans for Tax Fairness poll, 72 percent of Virginians, regardless of political party, want to see more tax fairness. 

Should Senator Warner successfully coalesce a deal that appears to be in reach, the recovery legislation would represent something greater than the sum of its parts. Beyond burnishing Senator Warner’s reputation as a skilled, trusted negotiator, and delivering relief to families still reeling from the pandemic, it would remind Americans that the Congress is capable of responding to the challenges of our time and, hopefully, pave the way for even more progress on issues like climate change and democracy reform. The Green New Deal would put us on a more sustainable path to hold giant corporations accountable while simultaneously supporting working people, and it is imperative to ensure that democracy reform moves forward to safeguard the fundamental right to vote.  

Overall, this kind of approach, one that advances key priorities while also paying for them in an equitable and sustainable way, is, in a phrase, “Warner-esque.” We trust that he can do it again, even with what little margin for error exists in the United States Senate.

Tram Nguyen is co-executive director of New Virginia Majority. Alexsis Rodgers is Virginia state director of Care in Action. Ashley C. Kenneth is president and CEO of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

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