The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce was honored to host our 2nd Annual Senatorial Forum on Monday, August 17 at the Founder’s Inn and Spa in Virginia Beach. We were pleased to welcome both of the Commonwealth's United States Senators, the Honorable Mark Warner and the Honorable Tim Kaine.
This unique event is the only one of its kind in the Commonwealth. Even Senator Warner quipped that it is unheard of to get two sitting senators in the same room at the same time, especially if they are from the same party. The Senators are an unusual pair both being Democrats, who were both Governor of Virginia and are also long time friends.
Senator Mark Warner started off the presentation by covering four areas he is currently working on in Washington. The first is sequestration or “stupidity on steroids” as the Senator called it. Sequestration is up for reconsideration this year after a two year hold on implementation. The Senator feels that it is critical to take up budget reductions in all Federal departments and not just defense. He also is very concerned that if the Congress does not get to work on the next Federal budget now, we may face another unnecessary and damaging government shut down.
As a member of the Finance Committee, Senator Warner is focused on tax reform especially in the area of corporate taxation. “The corporate tax rate internationally is about to decrease once again, leaving the US with the highest corporate tax rate around the globe.” The Senator’s concern is that the high tax rate will discourage overseas investment in the United States and will encourage American business to move overseas to save money.
As an entrepreneur and father of several millennials, Senator Warner is concerned about the challenges and opportunities of the developing “job share” economy. Our next generations enjoy having considerable control over their work and one of the best ways to do this is to start your own company or work on free lance projects for several companies. While this is wonderful for entrepreneurism, it is also troubling because there is no built in safety net like workers compensation insurance, unemployment insurance and no company funded retirement which we all need long-term. The Senator does not necessarily want the government to provide a solution, but to get people thinking about a solution and how to provide it.
Finally, he is concerned about “short-termism” is American capitalism. The question is are American corporations so focused on making their earnings projections every quarter that they are failing to invest in research and development, infrastructure, human capital and growth? Senator Warner feels that the answer is a resounding, yes. The question becomes how can we motivate and incentivize corporations, their boards and share holders to take a longer view on earnings and investment for the good of the country?
Senator Tim Kaine tackled four different areas of work in Washington. In his work on the Armed Services Committee, Senator Kaine is working on the transition of veterans from the military to the civilian workforce. This transition has been especially difficult for the young men and women coming home from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He wants to make sure that the nation as a whole is focused on making this a smooth transition.
On the agreement with Iran, Senator Kaine said that he has never seen the Senate so thoughtful on an agreement. Everyone agrees that they want to find a diplomatic solution to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program and not a military one. What the Foreign Relations Committee has found is that although the world sanctions on Iran have stopped economic growth, it has not stopped their nuclear development program.
Sea level rise is a non-partisan issue which affects all coast lines, but especially the communities here in Hampton Roads. Senator Kaine is very proud of how the Virginia communities are coming together to tackle this issue. We are well ahead of other areas of the country. He is also working on creating a national center on sea level rise to be based in Hampton Roads, similar to the National Severe Weather Center in Oklahoma.
During the question and answer segment of the program there were several questions related to cyber security. Senator Warner discussed the need for credit card companies to move to the “chip and pin” system which has been very successful in reducing credit card theft in Europe and away from the “swipe and sign” system. He would also like to see Homeland Security Administration given enforcement powers and not just making recommendations to government agencies on how to protect their data. The Senator would also like to see a protocol put in place for businesses to be able to report data breaches to the government to help build a database of attacks and to help build better defenses both within the government and in the business community.
Finally, when asked about his visit to the Hampton Veterans Administration hospital, Senator Kaine commented that they have made excellent strides in reducing wait times for primary care visits. Both Senators are still very concerned that the paperwork and procedures are still too complicated and very frustrating for veterans and their families.
These and other topics are representative of the kind of dialogue the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is fostering on behalf of its membership body. Decisions being made in Washington, D.C. on a daily basis are having an impact on the Hampton Roads regional economy and our national security.
"The Hampton Roads Chamber is a business advocate in national, state and local government and works closely with elected officials to create economic prosperity and enhance the quality of life," said President and CEO Bryan K. Stephens. "Events such as this Senatorial forum allow Chamber members to gain access to decision makers and get involved in business issues that impact the community."
The Chamber wishes to thank the following sponsors: Cox (Presenting); PRA Group (Platinum); Optima Health (Silver); Sinclair Communications (Media Sponsor); Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Platinum Legislative Affairs Partner); Clark Nexsen (Silver Legislative Affairs Partners).