Part of the cycle
Opinions are split on Virginia’s diminished voice in Congress
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd District) is more optimistic than Gov. Terry McAuliffe about the fate of the state’s economy after the departures of powerful, veteran Virginia Reps. Eric Cantor (R-7th District), Frank Wolf (R-10th) and Jim Moran (D-8th).
Scott notes Virginia kept more than its fair share of Department of Defense dollars after the 2000 retirement of three of the state’s most senior U.S. congressmen: Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (after 19 years of service), Herbert Bateman (17 years) and Owen Pickett (13 years).
“We’ve been through this before,” says Scott, who, along with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6th), are expected to win re-election next month and become the state’s most senior congressmen. “I guess it goes in cycles. The [Virginia] delegation works together and gets things done, but it’s easier when you have people in good positions.”
Scott says Virginia’s proximity to Washington, D.C., its established companies and skilled workforce in areas such as shipbuilding and ship repair, plus the rising influence of three of the state’s congressmen on the powerful House Armed Services Committee — Randy Forbes (R-4th), Rob Wittman (R-1st) and Scott Rigell (R-2nd) — will prevent any substantial additional losses of federal defense dollars.
Political analyst Quentin Kidd of Christopher Newport University agrees that Virginia’s proximity to the Pentagon and other cash-strapped federal agencies will make it more expensive and therefore harder to spend federal dollars in more distant states; but he takes a more pessimistic view on the power the Virginia delegation will retain in the next Congress.
Kidd predicts the other 49 state delegations will work harder and perhaps be much more successful in winning a bigger share of a shrinking federal budget. The Budget Control Act of 2011 called for more than $1 trillion in spending cuts by 2021.
Kidd recalls how hard Virginia lawmakers in 2010 — without the influence of former Republican Sen. John Warner, retired former chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee — had to fight to keep the Pentagon from following through on plans to relocate a single aircraft carrier from Hampton Roads to Naval Station Mayport near Jacksonville, Fla.
“If John Warner were still in office at the time, I’m not sure that discussion would have gone as far as it did,” he says.
“Given the state of our economy right now, there are very few instances where we can create new growth. There are not a lot of new opportunities, so that’s why you will find states trying to pick off federal [spending contracts], like an aircraft carrier,” says Kidd. “What’s really important for our delegation is protecting what we have.”
Chris DeNicolo, lead defense and aerospace analyst at the Standard & Poor’s credit rating company, argues that the loss of Cantor, Moran and Wolf won’t mean much to the state’s defense contractors, given what he describes as a steady and continuing decline in support for Pentagon spending increases.
He says Virginia’s loss of influence in the House of Representatives would be more worrisome if the Pentagon were in the midst of another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) activities, which often depress the economies of regions around military installations. “People have talked about [another round of BRAC], but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in the current environment,” he says. “That’s when tens of thousands of people are affected.”