Making his third stop this month in Loudoun -- one of Virginia's key swing counties -- U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D) underscored his business and bipartisan credentials in Leesburg Friday, the third day of his “Working Together” re-election campaign tour.
As he does frequently, Warner remarked that he's “relentlessly bipartisan,” and the former Virginia governor used some legislation to support the claim; the senator highlighted a student debt bill he drafted with the help of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, a Warner-patroned measure aiming to standardize federal spending data and ensure it's available to the public online. The act has passed both chambers of Congress and awaits President Obama's signature.
“Every major piece of legislation I work on I start with a Republican partner,” Warner said. “Not because it makes it intellectually better, but because I think if you start with a Republican partner that means that most folks will think, 'well, maybe this has actually got some common ground to it,'”
Warner stressed his belief that government should be used to provide everyone a “fair shot” – a phrase he repeated several times during his hour-long visit to the Mason Enterprise Center business hub.
Warner spoke proudly of his personal background, driving home what he described as an "only in America" story.
"Born in Indiana in a lower-middle class family, public schools all my life … I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. I failed miserably in my first two business attempts,” Virginia's senior senator said.
Following initial business failures, Warner found private sector success in the telecommunications industry and as a venture capitalist. He's now one of the richest members of Congress with assets totaling more than $76 million, according to Roll Call.
Republicans have zeroed in on Warner's vote in favor of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, playing on the law commonly called Obamacare's unpopularity. A USA Today/Pew Research poll released in early May showed that 55 percent of those surveyed oppose Obamacare.
The GOP and Warner's presumed challenger, former National Republican Committee chairman and lobbyist Ed Gillespie, have seemed set on framing the campaign around Obamacare and Warner's support for the president's agenda.
"Not only have countless Virginians had their insurance cancelled because of Warner’s vote for ObamaCare, but now they’re facing double digit premium increases as well," said Michael Short, a Republican National Committee spokesman. "The gap between what Mark Warner says and what he does seems to grow wider by the day, whether it’s keeping his ObamaCare promises or paying lip service to bipartisanship while voting with the Obama Administration 97 percent of the time.”
Warner's campaign called the 97 percent figure misleading. A spokesman said "solely tallying an arbitrary number of mainly procedural votes does not accurately depict the total sum of a U.S. Senator's work."
"Republicans and independent news organizations alike have praised Sen. Warner's credentials as a moderate, bipartisan problem solver," the spokesman, David Turner, said.
As he did earlier this month at a Loudoun Democrats gala, Warner conceded Friday there are problems with the Affordable Care Act. Several proposed fixes he mentioned include adding a lower-cost, higher-deductible "Copper" option to the federal insurance marketplace; raising the employer mandate on small businesses from those with 50 employees to those with 100 employees; and cutting back administrative requirements.
“Some of these are Republican ideas, but we got to actually move the debate from, 'let's not touch a word of it' to 'let's repeal it 50 different times' … it should be about 'how do we get it fixed,'” Warner said.
The senator also called for more compromise from lawmakers in working to reduce the federal debt and deficit. Republicans must consider higher taxes, Warner said, while Democrats should be willing to alter entitlement spending.
"You have to recognize that both parties have got good ideas, and the only way you're going to get stuff done is if you're willing to compromise," he noted.