Congressman Frank Wolf spent the bulk of an Oct. 23 debate speaking about his accomplishments in his 30-plus year career in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Wolf’s challenger, Democrat Kristin Cabral, meanwhile spent much of her time talking about what the Congressman hasn’t done in her eyes. What Wolf has failed to do, Cabral claimed, is return a fair share of federal tax dollars back to Virginia’s 10th District.
The two spent more than 90 minutes in Great Falls debating these charges and many other, including the federal budget, sequestration and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Wolf, who was first elected to Congress in 1980, highlighted his work to combat local gang violence, his vision in making rail to Dulles a reality and his cooperation with both parties to deal with the federal debt and deficit. Wolf twice mentioned the fact he’s never signed a political pledge, such as the Grover Norquist “No Tax” plan, which hundreds of Republican politicians have given their name to over the years.
“I’ve always believed that one elected official working together in a bipartisan way can make a difference,” Wolf said in his opening remarks.
The Republican reeled off the names of Virginia’s Democratic Congressmen as examples of the bonds he’s established across the aisle.
Cabral, a former federal prosecutor, is running on a ticket of “fresh leadership” and her “American Dream” life experience, she said.
“What the good people of the 10th District finally deserve is a congressperson who has the priorities of the people straight,” Cabral, who’s in her 40s, said. “And who takes an activist’s approach to delivering for us.”
National debt and entitlement spending
Early in the debate, Wolf voiced his endorsement for the Simpson-Bowles commission’s recommendation to reduce the national debt with a balanced approach. The congressman was one of only 18 Republicans who supported the commission’s proposal.
Established by executive order from President Barack Obama, the 18-member, bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission failed to approve its own report in December 2010. The plan needed a super-majority, or the approval of 14 commissioners, to be advanced.
Wolf criticized President Obama for not moving the report forward.
“The greatest failure of this administration is when they walked away from Simpson-Bowles,” Wolf said.
The House of Representatives voted on the proposal earlier this year. It failed 382-28.
With a mix of spending cuts and increased revenues, the commission’s recommendation was estimated to reduce the federal debt by $4 trillion over 10 years.
Cabral questioned Wolf’s support on Simpson-Bowles. If it was such a “viable” option, why did only 38 members – 20 Democrats and 18 Republicans – support it, she asked.
“For almost 32 years of leadership, where was the ‘Wolf compromise’ on the budget, with your name on it?” Cabral said.
Both candidates said they support cutting loopholes in the tax code. Cabral said the approach must be balanced with a cut in spending and the elimination of unnecessary subsidies.
Wolf said obscure tax breaks for big companies like General Electric and an organization like NASCAR need to nixed to help deal with the deficit.
On Social Security, the 73-year-old Republican said he has no plans to privatize the system or turn it into a voucher program. Still, certain adjustments must be made, though like Cabral, he was slight on specifics.
Wolf mentioned only the recommendation in Simpson-Bowles that requires workers 50 years or younger to work an extra month as a way to shore up Social Security
Cabral suggested raising the cap on Social Security deductions for workers as a way to draw down entitlement spending for seniors. She criticized the view of anyone who is in favor of privatizing Social Security.
Sequestration, or the deep, across-the-board budget cuts facing the federal government, was a key point of discussion in the debate. Congressman Wolf voted for the Budget Control Act in 2011 that created the sequestration scenario, which will go into effect in January if Congress doesn’t strike a deal.
The complex issue has been a campaign talking point for both parties. It was struck to begin drawing down the national debt, a prime talking point of Republicans.
Both Wolf and Cabral said it was essential to find a compromise to stave off sequestration, which would impose $500 billion in defense cuts and devastate Virginia’s strong defense contracting industry.
Wolf reverted back to his support for the Simpson-Bowles plan, which he said would’ve kept sequestration out of the picture.
“I have spoke out on the floor on it, I have worked on it and I voted for it,” Wolf said of Simpson-Bowles.
Cabral said she’d like to see income tax deductions capped at $17,000—which she said would bring in more than $1 trillion to the U.S. Treasury. The Democrat also proposed limited home mortgage deductions to primary homes and raising the capital gains tax rate.
Northern Virginia issues
On Dulles rail, Cabral questioned why there aren’t any federal funds contributed to Phase Two of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project, commonly called Dulles rail. For a project of that magnitude, Cabral said, there should be reserved federal funding.
Wolf himself has long been an advocate for Dulles rail. He worked with former Sen. John Warner and Gov. Tim Kaine to help advance the $5.5 billion project. Part of that deal was that the federal government would chip in only for Phase One, which stops in Reston, and not for the second phase.
Still, Wolf continues to take heat from his challenger for not securing funds for Phase Two.
During the debate, Wolf clarified he was continuing to work with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to locate federal funding, likely through grants, for Dulles rail.
Cabral still said, “right now, we really don’t have rail to Dulles”
While it’s true extending Metro to the Dulles airport is several years off, all the funding partners have approved the plans and agreed to pay for the project, which brings the Silver Line to the airport and into Loudoun County.
On transportation, Wolf highlighted the improvements at several key district hotspots, including Spout Run Parkway, Georgetown Pike off Route 7 and adding a lane westbound on Interstate 66. Wolf said he was instrumental in making sure these enhancements were made.
Wolf also touted his repeated calls for more oversight of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which has been the target of ethics criticism and the subject of a federal Department of Transportation Inspector General Report.
Yet Cabral said Wolf hasn’t done enough, which can be evidenced by the constant traffic throughout Virginia’s 10th District.
“The gridlock on Capitol Hill has led to the gridlock on our roads,” Cabral said.
The Democrat has repeatedly taken jabs at Wolf for his long tenure in Congress, claiming he’s “part of the problem.”
Both candidates addressed the high prevalence of Lyme disease in the 10th District. Wolf has been praised by supporters in Loudoun and the region for his work to help target and reduce the cases of Lyme.
“Every time you see a deer, it is basically a Metro system carrying a tick that has Lyme disease,” Wolf said.
The Republican has supported legislation for the study and prevention of Lyme, and pushed Virginia officials and the Center for Disease Control to examine the high case count within Northern Virginia.
Wolf, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, touched on his support for increased federal funding in national math and science programs, as well as his call for a study to determine why American students have shown declining interest in those fields.
Wolf said he proposed a bill, which has since been passed by both Houses, that will forgive up to $5,000 in student loan interest on federal loans for borrowers who agree to serve for five consecutive years as teachers in math and science fields.
Congress has bolstered its allocation to the National Science Foundation, “in order to make sure that America competes around the world,” Wolf said.
Cabral pushed for more direct funding to public classrooms and teachers.
“What I think we need to do is dedicate some federal funding to classroom instruction,” Cabral said. She said, while on the trail, she hears from teachers that they’re “tired of teaching to the test.”
“[Teachers] want to see more resources dedicated to the instruction in the classroom,” she said.
The Democrat, who said she paid for a large share of her education through student loans, also wants to see a percentage of student debt forgiven for students that go into math and science fields, notably engineering.
Affordable Care Act
“I have voted to repeal Obamacare,” Wolf said to a loud applause from the 60 or so attendees in Great Falls.
The Republican went on to note, however, that he supports oft-mentioned provisions within the law: outlawing the practice of insurance companies denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and the section that allows people to stay on their parent’s health insurance until age 26.
Rather than criticize specifics of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Wolf was harsh on the manner through which the health care law came to be. The Republican claimed most of it was composed behind closed doors.
“You should not pass a law without trying to come together in a bipartisan-partisan way,” Wolf said. “ … it’s time to come together in a bipartisan way to repeal, but also replace.”
Cabral said Obamacare has been “good for the country, because it’s been good for the marketplace.” Too many consumers had previously been left out of the health care market, she said.
The Democrat noted that under Obamacare many women have gained access to health services and preventive care, like mammograms and Pap smears. Cabral said Wolf “seems to like a lot of things about Obamacare,” yet he has repeatedly voted to repeal it.
“I don’t think you should throw the baby out with the bath water,” she said.
Cabral advocates for adding dentistry and eye care for adults to be included in the law.
Virginia’s 10th District currently includes Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick counties, the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park and Winchester, and large portions of Fairfax and Prince William counties.
Wolf has routinely bested opposing candidates by a 20 percent or greater margin over the past two decades. In 2010, the Republican defeated Democrat Jeff Barnett by taking 63 percent of the vote. Barnett garnered 35 percent, while Libertarian Bill Redpath took 2 percent.
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