Federal officials inject themselves in the debate over Metro safety. Maryland state lawmakers spar over early voting sites in Montgomery County. And Pope Francis' representatives in D.C. make a last-minute plea for a death row inmate in Virginia.
D.C. lawmakers reprimand one of their own. Virginia’s General Assembly punches out a transportation plan in Richmond. And the Washington region braces for the potential shock of sweeping federal budget cuts. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- David Albo Member, Virginia House of Delegates (R-Springfield)
- Barbara Mikulski U.S. Senator (D-Md.)
Politics Hour Video
Virginia Del. David Albo (R-Springfield) talked about how last month’s passage of a landmark transportation funding bill would affect the gubernatorial race. On the possibility of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling running for governor as an independent, Albo said: “I’m a Republican. I’m a team player. When you’re on the Redskins, you don’t go hang out with the Cowboys.”
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers who last night had to relinquish his star status to several others who are running for the vacant at-large seat on the D.C. Council. It's my understanding that you and your co-conspirator, Mike Seagraves...
MR. TOM SHERWOODMark Seagraves, whatever.
SHERWOODHe's very well-known, apparently.
NNAMDI...who was with us here just two weeks ago, as a matter of fact, you both moderated that debate. Who's winning, and who's losing?
SHERWOODWell, I did a much better job than Seagraves.
SHERWOODBut, you know, it's the first time he's worked -- he and I have worked together since he's joined NBC 4 two weeks ago. So it was a kind of fun thing. We've done this form before. But, you know, we had seven candidates in the race for the April 23 election, nonpartisan, whoever gets one vote more than anyone else wins. And Michael Brown, the former councilmember, is trying to make a comeback.
SHERWOODAnita Bonds, a longtime campaign political activist in the Democratic Party, is a current sitting person in that seat, holding it until the election. And then there are five other candidates, all of whom have a claim on the race. And I thought the candidates were pretty interesting. I watched the crowd. We did -- we asked for a show of hands, and there was three, 400 people there last night, I think would be a good number. And it looked like 75 percent of them raised their hands when asked, "Are you undecided?" So these candidates have...
NNAMDISo it's anybody's race at this point.
SHERWOODYes. I said these candidates have a real opportunity to breakthrough. I think The Washington Post's editorial page will play a role in how some of the people vote.
NNAMDIAnd there's not a significant advantage of incumbency because Anita Bonds has only been in this seat for a couple of months.
SHERWOODShe's a placeholder. And only about 50-, maybe 50,000 people are so out of the -- nearly 400,000 voters in the city will probably vote. So if you can get all your family members and friends to vote, you might win.
NNAMDIIt's anybody's race still at this point. The election is on April the 23rd.
NNAMDIBut speaking of the D.C. Council, a sitting councilmember, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, was reprimanded by the Council this week and relieved of his alcohol licensing oversight responsibility as a result of what was perceived as meddling in contracts because of his position on -- at that point on both the Metro board and the City Council, something we've discussed here so many times that I don't have to go into the details again. Jim Graham seems to feel that it's finally over. Is it?
SHERWOODWell, it is in terms of what the Council -- any of the bodies would do. The one body we haven't heard from is the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is investigating the whole handling of the lottery contract on any number of levels. And there's no indication that Graham is involved in that, but it's still one thing out there. You know, the Council voted. They reprimanded Jim Graham.
SHERWOODWhat that means is basically don't do it again. There's no punishment. They did -- the Council did take away his oversight over the alcohol beverage control industry, and that's a pretty big deal 'cause he's been in charge of that for, like, eight years, and he thinks he's done a good job. But he did not get censored like Barry did a few years ago. And so he is -- he says he can now look forward to going back to his constituents, and he dodged a really major bullet here.
NNAMDISequestration is upon us, and the delegate of the District of Columbia, Eleanor Holmes Norton, says that during the sequestration that she would donate one day's pay for each day federal workers are furloughed this year out of her own salary. Maryland Cong. Chris Van Hollen tried to get sequestered himself, but apparently, that's not constitutionally allowed -- furloughed at this point. That's not allowed, but I guess...
NNAMDI...members are trying to show some empathy.
SHERWOODYes. I guess as opposed to leadership in getting the problem solved. But the -- yes, there's empathy because the threat of something happening -- this is a very -- it's kind of like the fiscal cliff that turned into a fiscal slope. And now, what we have is the sequestration, which, I guess, begins tonight or after work today or whatever hour they pick. And it's not clear that anything is going to happen immediately.
SHERWOODWe keep looking for what's going to happen immediately, and it's all going to be phased in. There's a new deadline, March 27, when something else might happen. The one thing this is -- just shows that the Congress is just rocking along. Chuck Todd from NBC pretty well today in his daily memo, you know, the Democrats are not that upset because there are no social issue cuts in this. And the Republicans are not upset because there's budget cutting, so let it happen.
NNAMDIIt's apparently going to happen. Time, I guess...
SHERWOODBut we don't know what's going to happen. It's very fuzzy.
NNAMDIWell, we'll find out during the course of the next few days, especially after a White House meeting that nobody seems to know what result from takes place today. But it's time to get to our esteemed guests. Joining us in studio is David Albo. David Albo is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican from Fairfax County. Delegate Albo, good to see you again.
MR. DAVID ALBOAll right. Thanks for having me again.
NNAMDIYou can -- if you have questions or comments for Dave Albo, you can call us at 800-433-8850, send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. Can we start with transportation? Is that OK with you?
SHERWOODYeah. He's fresh from a legislature that actually did something. It'd be kind of refreshing to hear. I mean some people didn't like parts of it, and I'm sure you didn't, but you actually did something. Gov. McDonnell has got some praise for that. The Senate, the Republicans and the Democrats seem to have got something done.
NNAMDIBut this plan includes a tax increase that you and other Republicans voted for. What did you make of the package that, as Tom was saying, the governor sent to you and that you eventually sent back to him, and why were you willing to vote for a tax increase to make this happen?
ALBOWell, I mean the one thing is that I think that Virginia is known for getting things done, and we're willing to compromise to solve the problem. We have a Republican-controlled House. We have a 50-50 split in the Senate. So you can't have everything 100 percent your way.
ALBOAnd I think that's why people get so frustrated at Congress. Everybody wants a compromise as long as 100 percent their way. So the governor put up a bill. I didn't really like his bill when it first came out. We kept the ball moving. I was put on the conference committee, and we wrote something that works. Unfortunately, we have to raise taxes. There's really no other way to solve the problem without raising new revenue.
NNAMDIWhat message do you think this might send to Republicans in the U.S. Congress about revenue? Should they take lessons out of this compromise you reached in Richmond?
ALBOWell, our compromise was a 50-50 split compromise. The Democrats for years never wanted to spend existing revenue, existing resources on transportation, and we never wanted to do anything on raising new revenue. And the Democrats agreed to do transfer of $200 million, which a lot of money out of general spending and we agreed to raise new revenue. That's how the compromise happened.
ALBOBut, you know, I mean, I've got people on both sides who are mad at me, but the bottom line is I've solved the problem. Well, I shouldn't say I did. Bob McDonnell, Speaker Howell and others solved the problem.
NNAMDINo, but -- go ahead.
SHERWOODI was just going to -- specifically for the Northern Virginia area, what does it mean in terms of how would the road situation be better and how much more quickly will it be better?
ALBOWell, it's going to be almost immediately better in your neighborhood. People I don't think realize how broke Virginia is when it comes to road funding. Because gas tax was set in 1986 at $17.50 cents a gallon, that doesn't increase with inflation, and because cars go much further now than they used to that people are paying much, much less than they were in 1986 to drive. What's happened, though, is it's practically bankrupt the transportation system.
ALBOThere is so little money in Virginia that there is not enough money to repave one residential road. There is not money literally for one stoplight in the entire state. All we have right now is money to build big projects that are federally funded, and that's it. That's why the governor...
SHERWOODThat's why you only have to pay 10 percent of the funds and the 90 percent of federal funding? Is that how it works now?
ALBOYeah, exactly right. And that's why the governor finally decided he had to do something. I mean, he told me that he's done he could possibly do to fix the problem, and there's nothing else left other than to raise new revenue. So we did what we had to do. I mean, I didn't like doing it but my -- I got elected to solve problems. And when a person's residential street can't get repaired and I can't get a stoplight, I got to do something.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Delegate Dave Albo of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's a Republican from Fairfax County, taking your comments and questions at 800-433-8850, whether you want to comment on the transportation agreement or anything else. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODThe governor was in Roanoke this week, at -- in beautiful -- down in near the Blue Ridge Mountains' end, and he was taking a radio call and people were complaining saying, you've done the biggest tax increase ever. And he says, of course, that's (word?) not true. But he also said that -- he pointed out Ronald Reagan, who is an icon for conservatives, moderates, that, you know, he was able to reach consensus and make compromises. And that's what you're saying you did.
ALBOMm hmm. That's exactly right. I mean, people don't realize -- a lot of people who are against this think, why can't you just transfer spending from other areas of government? What they don't understand is that over the last 10 years, we have cut billions and billions out of the budget.
ALBOIn fact, I got a chart from the Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission that shows that had we just increased spending in the population and inflation over the last 10 years, we would be spending $5.4 billion more than we are today. In other words, we have cut $5.4 billion out of the budget. There is just no more money for roads. It's impossible.
SHERWOODWhy do you think, on the national level, the Republicans in the House, the speaker, some people say, is a captive of the Tea Party interest, that he said no more on any revenue. We're not just not going to have any discussion on revenue at all. We're just going to go forward without negotiating any more revenue. That doesn't sound that they're going to reach a solution.
ALBOWell, I mean, I can't really speak on what the United States budget is like because I don't have an inside knowledge on whether there is enough money to do what we have to do with existing revenue. I can speak with authority on Virginia budget. And I have my charts here. I know this is a radio show, but I'll try to explain it. I mean, if you looked at the Virginia budget, direct aid to public education is 30 percent.
ALBOIf you cut that, then the local governments are just going to have to raise your real estate tax because they have a constitutional obligation to teach kids. Higher education is 7.9 percent. If you cut that, we don't even have enough money to get in-state slots into our schools. Car tax -- people like that -- that's 5 percent total debt service. You have no choice but...
SHERWOODNo option there.
ALBOYep. That's 3.8 percent, public safety, 10 percent. All the Medicaid and health services that are partially paid by the government, that's almost 30 percent. You can't cut that or you'll lose federal funds. Judicial, you can't bust criminals if you don't have courts. That's 2.5 percent, rainy day fund, which is our savings account, 1.2 percent. You add all that up, which is the things that we cannot cut, it's 89.9 percent. So there's only 10 percent left. And you cannot find $1.4 billion for roads out of a slice of pie of 10 percent of government.
NNAMDISo you got to compromise. And that compromise means that the general fund revenues that usually goes to things like school and public safety. Some of that will now, for the first time, be going to transportation.
NNAMDIBut the Fairfax system where you live is bursting at the scenes. Where do you think Fairfax should be getting money to deal with those capacity issues in schools or do things like pay for more teachers?
ALBOWell, one of the things and the reasons I was put on the conference committee to negotiate this was we needed to look out for Northern Virginia citizens because the way things usually work in Richmond is they come to Fairfax, they take our money, and they send it for their stuff. So there's two parts of this transportation package. One is the statewide part. If you add up all the money we pay and all the money we get, we have 30 percent of the population, we get 30 percent of the money. So that's a fair split.
ALBOOn the Northern Virginia part, there's a sole-source Northern Virginia part, 100 percent of the money that raise in Northern Virginia stays in Northern Virginia. It has to be for transportation. It has to be above and beyond what the local governments are currently paying for transportation. And if anything is ever diverted out of Northern Virginia or does not go to transportation, all the new revenue sources are repealed. So it should be bulletproof.
SHERWOODHow do you think this will affect the tenor tone of the gubernatorial campaign with Mr. Cuccinelli for the Republicans and Mr. McAuliffe for the Democrats? So when people actually got something done in Richmond, do you think it'll have an impact on the campaign?
ALBOWell, I think it's going to have a huge impact because one of the top two issues in the state transportation is now done. It's solved. They don't have to argue about it. And so now they can -- I don't know what other issues they're going to concentrate on, but we did what we needed to do to fix it. So that kind of takes it off a table.
SHERWOODI mean, that's -- I think some people don't realize, you know, the Republicans are nominating Mr. Cuccinelli in a convention, I think, this May. And then the Democrats have their -- perform a primary in June. And then we've got a bigger race going on.
ALBOThat's exactly right. And I got an email from Bill Bolling who's our lieutenant governor who's considering an independent run. So it could get really spicy.
SHERWOODWhat did that email say?
ALBOHe said that he was soliciting comments from his supporters to see if they want him to run, that he was seriously thinking of it.
SHERWOODAnd your position is?
ALBOI'm a Republican. I'm a team player. I mean, I get, you know, when you're on the Redskins, you don't go hang out with the Cowboys.
NNAMDIPlus, Ken Cuccinelli is listening even as we speak.
NNAMDIIn this transportation deal, Republicans had to compromise on expanding Medicaid to get this transportation plan. You're going to set up a commission to study the issue. Republican governors or some Republican governors recently said they would expand. What is your position on this?
ALBOWell, I just disagree with the premise of your question, which is that it was part of the compromise of transportation. They were totally separate issues. The transportation bill was voted on, and then a couple of hours later, we voted on the budget. I am adamantly against taking the expanded Medicaid. I just do not trust the federal government to live up to their promise, to pay 100 percent this year, 100 percent next year, 90 percent on years thereafter.
ALBOWe had 450,000 people to Medicaid. If the federal government backs out, we're dead. So -- but the issue gets a little bit confusing. What we found out was that the law says in absence of a statute in the Virginia code, the governor can accept Medicaid expansion on his own. We tried to pass a bill that would have said we will not take Medicaid, and we couldn't get it passed. So then we are stuck in a tough place. If we pass a budget without anything about Medicaid and Terry McAuliffe wins, then boom.
ALBOI'm assuming he takes the whole thing, no reforms, and I think that we're in a whole world of hurt. So instead, what we did was a compromise proposal that you just referred to that said we will consider taking Medicaid if you give us the authority to do significant reforms such as applying manage care standards to all Medicaid. We have to drop the cost. And if these reforms are met, then we'll take it. And the reform -- the decision about whether reforms are met go to a panel of appointees, and they're the ones who are going to decide whether or not the triggers have been met.
NNAMDIThe transportation plan may have passed, but don your headphones, Tom, because there's still one aspect of it at the very least that is still controversial, and that's what Bill in Fairfax, Va., would like to address. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLWell, Mr. Albo, I don't understand why politicians always seemed to do something indirectly that could have done directly. You've imposed a $100 registration sin tax on hybrid vehicles. Why not just increase the gas tax?
ALBOWell, that's a point that is very good. We're still working that out. Here was -- here's what our thought was. We did not want to increase gas tax because gas tax is what got us in this problem in the first place. I think within about 10 years, they expect that 10 percent of the cars are going to be electric. And if we tied transportation to gas tax, we're just back here in 10, 15, 20 years. So we did not choose to increase gas tax as the funding source.
ALBOOne of the things we thought, though, was that a person driving an electric car doesn't pay anything, and it's not fair that people who drive gas cars pay gas taxes and other -- these gas taxes, and a person driving an electric car doesn't pay anything. So we did a $100 fee. We increased it from 5,200 on electric cars. That, when we ran our calculations, was about what the average person would pay in new gas tax in Virginia. Then we got into a problem.
ALBOThe technology is going so fast, we couldn't figure out what the definition of alternate vehicle was. Every day, there's a different technology. So we kind of got stuck the very last day. We couldn't figure out a solution. So this is one of the things that the governor is going to try to work out. Hybrids should not be paying $100 because they do burn some gas. And so we're trying to think of a sliding scale to make it fair. That's a very good point.
NNAMDIThank you for you call, Bill. Tom Sherwood has an alternate to vehicle. It's called a bicycle. Here is John...
SHERWOODYes. And I like it too.
NNAMDIHere is John in Alexandria, Va. John, your turn.
JOHNYeah, thanks. I just wanted to point out that the income tax hits the poorest of the poor twice as much as the rich. And the poorest of the poor, people who probably don't own cars, they're taking the cars to go where they needed to go. To raise taxes on people who aren't using the roads for their cars more so than the people who are, and I think that's a little silly.
JOHNI think it's a little disingenuous for a Republican to come on the show and say, oh, look, I raise taxes, because Republicans want to raise taxes on the poor. I think they would vote for a flat tax increase at the national level. And I think you guys should've probably looked at the income tax instead of the sales tax to do -- till we get this done. (unintelligible).
SHERWOODSo the sales tax went from five to 5.03, is that right?
ALBOIt goes from 5 to 5.3 statewide, and then...
ALBO...and then to...
NNAMDIOur caller characterizes that as tax on poor people.
ALBORight. And then a full -- another .7 in Northern Virginia. So Northern Virginia will get the .7. We did look at income tax, and I adamantly fought the income tax 'cause if you do an income tax, that is another Northern Virginia rip-off. If we are to raise income taxes, we were going to pay 40 percent of the bill, and you weren't going to see 40 percent of the money. At best, you were going to see 30 percent. So he makes a good point, but I just could not support a bill that came to Northern Virginia and took the money and send it South.
SHERWOODWhat would be -- for the sales tax, what does Northern Virginia contribute in terms of pay?
ALBOIt's about 34 percent, and we got 30 percent of the money. So it's -- in Richmond formulas, paying 34 percent and getting 30 percent is very good.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Ron, who says, "I live in Alexandria and commute to Quantico on 95 every day and see the construction to widen and extend the HOV lanes. I read this is -- that this is being funded by a public-private partnership. Could Delegate Albo please explain that partnership?"
ALBOYeah. It's really interesting. It highlights exactly how broke the state is on roads. Look at the Beltway. We just widened it. Everybody wants to widen the Beltway and then it costs $1.4 billion. Now, if you wanted to raise $1.4 billion in Northern Virginia, you'd have to raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon. No one wanted to raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon. And like I said, we didn't have even one penny for a project like that.
ALBOSo instead, what we did was we found a private company who is willing to come and donate, you know, not donate and invest, I should say, $1.4 billion, in exchange for tolls. And they're going to make their costs up, and then they'll make a profit like any business does. And the thing you're seeing on 95 right now is the same company and the same concept as we've just done on the Beltway.
NNAMDIOn to Linda in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Linda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LINDAHi. We visited Europe, and I have relatives in Scotland. And the way they handle transportation taxes is based on the weight of your car and the miles that you drive each year.
SHERWOODWho -- how do they know how many miles you drive?
LINDAWell, you have to go for registrations to get licenses, and so forth, and they read your odometer.
ALBOThat's actually one of the things we looked at. I mean, this was a big bill. This took almost 15 years to write. I started working on this 2005. We were looking at a thing that you would charge by the mile, and the problem there is twofold. Number one, how do you find out? We don't want to put sensors in people's cars and track them.
ALBOSo you could do it when somebody got their safety inspection. So that problem could have been solved. The problem that couldn't be solved is we didn't want to select a funding source that was only paid by Virginians. I'm trying to get these out-of-state people to pay some too. And so a pure miles-driven tax would only charge Virginians.
SHERWOODYeah. That was one of the problems, people who drive 95 and 85 through the state, buy -- stop and buy gas won't pay that tax. They don't pay anything.
ALBOYes. That's exactly right. So, I mean, our idea was we did not want to charge one group a massive amount. What we did was we spread the paying across. I think that if you live in Northern Virginia, the average adult will pay about $6 a month when you add up everything.
NNAMDILinda, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Nancy in Reston, Va. You know, when you're talking roads, transportation in Virginia, a lot of calls. Here's Nancy. Nancy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NANCYYes. Thank you. The -- OK. This needs to paid by the people that actually use the roads. And when you are -- so we obviously need to be increasing the sales tax on gasoline in order to make the people that use them. I mean, you said that, you know, you're projecting some numbers that, you know, how many people are going to be using alternative fuel. But right now and for the foreseeable future, the people that are using the roads are the people that buy the gas. So that needs to be increased. We need to be decreased.
NANCYWe need to disincentivize people to come to Virginia that are going to be using up our roads requiring, you know, more roads. You know, if we lower the tax, people are going to be coming here and using our roads, congesting our roads, we need to be improving our mass transits. So we, you know, so we decrease the roads, and we need to increase, most importantly, increase -- massively increase the gas tax.
NNAMDIHere's Delegate Albo.
ALBOWell, let me tell you about what compromise means. For 20 years, no one wanted to compromise. We never had a transportation bill. I have grass, literally, growing in residential roads, and I can't even get a stoplight. So the governor came out with a bill, and he totally eliminated the gas tax, totally, and raised the sales tax. People like me agree with the caller. We don't want to do that. That is just taking the user fee aspect totally out of it.
ALBOIn the compromise, what we did was instead of eliminating the gas tax, we cut it by a third. So the gas tax goes from 17.5 cents down to 10 cents. Now, I know the caller is not going to like that. But guess what, we passed a bill that works. And so a compromise means that you get some stuff you like and you get some stuff you don't like. But in the end, you got a bill.
NNAMDINancy, we're running out of time very quickly. Thank you very much for your call. The Wall Street Journal's editorial page went so far as to call this last general assembly session a fiasco for conservatives. Looking back on the session, how would you say your party faired, and what would you say where the biggest missed opportunities for your party?
ALBOWell, I mean, first of all, The Wall Street Journal doesn't give us credit for cutting $5 billion out of the budget. I mean, we've done what Republicans do. We cut and cut and cut. And the problem is, eventually, you get to a point where there's no more cutting. And so we had a choice. We could do nothing, or we could do something.
ALBOAnd I think that this bill shows the Republicans and Democrats worked across party lines, and we solved the problem. To me, that's what everybody wants. They always say, why doesn't government work? How come no one ever gets anything done? Well, we cut the budget by $5 billion, and we're going to build enough roads to keep our state number one, state to do business.
NNAMDIDavid Albo, he is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He is a Republican from Fairfax County. Dave Albo, thank you so much for joining us.
ALBOI enjoy being here. Thanks very much.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. And joining us now by phone is Barbara Mikulski. She is a member of the United States Senate. She is a Democrat from Maryland. Senator Mikulski, thank you for joining us.
SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKIKojo. Good morning, Kojo.
NNAMDIGood to hear from you, Sen. Mikulski, at a time when the ax is ready to drop, sweeping federal budget cuts are set to go on to effect. But there are some debate on Capitol Hill about how serious this sequestration situation is. One House Republican is saying this week, it's going to happen. It's not the end of the world. You were pretty alarmed when the White House released the list of potential state by state impacts. What, in your view, are these cuts going to mean, well, for the country and for you, more importantly, for Maryland?
MIKULSKIWell, Kojo, I'm so glad we could be talking today. I'm here at my duty station. I'm right in the Capitol. I'm in where the -- actually, in the appropriations room ready to work. I had -- but let me tell you what this means. There is two things -- there is a difference between sequestration and a government shutdown.
MIKULSKIWhat is being triggered on March 1 is a mandatory across-the-board cut of $86 billion, half in defense and half in domestic spending, which means, you know, help for the National Institutes of Health, showers for air traffic controllers. When people say, oh, it doesn't mean anything, a sequester is not a guillotine.
MIKULSKIThat's a government shutdown. A sequester means you are going to take a million cuts, and government will slowly bleed to death. And what that means is that there would be a slow-rolling elimination of services, furloughs of employees, and really, I think, placing our national security in risk.
SHERWOODSenator, this is Tom Sherwood from NBC 4 here in Washington. Thank you...
MIKULSKIOh, yeah. Hi there, Tom.
SHERWOODHi. Thanks for joining us. If it's going to be slow-rolling cut of services, death by a thousand or a million cuts, as you just said, what would we see first?
MIKULSKIWell, right now, what is going on as we speak, the office of OPM and every head of every government agency will begin to process because they're under legal constrictions of notifying their employees that there could be layoffs and furloughs. The Department of Defense, because they have ships, planes, all of that and sources, will begin to start with their American-based civilian employees, and then move one out.
MIKULSKII think -- and the other is that we will notify -- the government will begin to notify contractors that they will either curtail or cancel their contract. This is huge and will affect everything from shipyard workers down in Norfolk to the contracts at Goddard Space Center in which we have 3,000 civil servants and 5,000 contractors doing America science. And so that's the way the impact will go. It will start with contracts. It will be notification of employees, and it'll be the beginning of laying of the ground work of closing services.
NNAMDIIs Maryland going to be hit particularly hard by this, in your view?
MIKULSKIWell, Maryland will be completely hit if the government is going to have a sequester because we have the great iconic federal agencies in Maryland, or those who use their services, they definitely -- the answer is yes. So let's talk first at a great agency like the National Institutes of Health. I was out there. I talked to them about the great work they're doing to find cures, even for the A words like Alzheimer's, autism, helping people with arthritis.
MIKULSKIAnd they're going to -- first of all, they will not be funding many of the new breakthrough research ideas. They will have to look at layoffs. And then you take Johns Hopkins where I also talked with people over there. Johns Hopkins gets considerable money for both research and Medicare to treat old people. All of that will be hit, and the head Johns Hopkins told me they're going to lay people off if they had a sequester. So you see how it ripples through the economy.
SHERWOODWhat is your response, senator, to people who's saying -- I think the federal budget is $3.5 trillion or something like that -- that $43 million domestic cuts should be able to be done in a government so large?
MIKULSKIOh sure, that's the thing, you use a big number to talk that way. But really, there is only -- there is $1 trillion in discretionary spending. The other 2 trillion go to Social Security benefits, veteran benefits and so on during what we call a mandatory spending, that no matter what -- well, let's take Social Security, Tom. People will get their Social Security checks. Seniors should not be alarmed.
MIKULSKIThe people who work at Social Security and would go on Maryland or work for Social Security in Utah or California will face a reduction in workforce and for constituents, that means fewer people to take claims, shorter hours of offices will be open and a heck of a lot of busy signals if you're trying to find your eligibility. So it will impact, and $86 billion, remember, under that -- remember, let's go back to where we were. Think of August 2011. We were facing the debacle of defaulting on our debt. Remember that?
NNAMDIOne does, yes.
MIKULSKIYes. And then they came up with the solution. Let's a have a commission, Simpson-Bowles. Let's have a super committee to come up with a balanced response, and we were given the mandate of reducing our debt by $1 trillion over 10 years. This sequester mandate is to meet that down payment, but we've been cutting all along.
MIKULSKII can tell you, as a member of the Appropriations Committee, we've already taken over $50 billion worth of cuts in the last 18 months. So are we -- our idea is let's have a balanced approach to this. We need more revenue by plugging up or eliminating tax earmarks. Let's have strategic cuts in spending. Yes, there are bloated programs. Let's go to work on that, and then let's have a rigorous review of our earned benefit programs.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Maryland U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski. She's a Democrat. She joins us by telephone. If you have questions or comments for her, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 800-433-8850. Here is Jeff in Washington, D.C. Jeff, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEFFHi. Yes. Hi, Kojo. Hi, Sen. Mikulski. Appreciate the picking up. I just had a question. If Sen. Mikulski could respond to Bob Woodward's article about the sequestration and sort of the slip here that it was originally the idea of the Obama administration, and now there's all the call of how this is going to affect the economy, how it's going to affect jobs, we shouldn't be doing this at a time of...
MIKULSKIWhat's your question, son? What's your question?
JEFFIf you could respond to Bob Woodward's article.
MIKULSKII have not read Bob Woodward's article. I know Bob's a compelling figure, but I haven't read his article. But I can respond to all of the stuff going on that you just talked about, about who is responsible. We all are responsible for sequester. When we were being held hostage and the American economy was on the brink when -- during the debt ceiling debate, when we were going to default and downgrade the United States of America's credit rating, we came up with a process of doing this.
MIKULSKIWhoever proposed it I'm not sure, but I voted on it because I thought it would be so Draconian that they would never ever not come to the table to find sensible solutions to cutting our America's defense and cutting important domestic programs. We have the men and women in military. Their salaries are protected.
MIKULSKIThere are other men and women who wear the uniform to protect America like our border control -- our border patrol people. Right now they're now in harm's way. Prison guards. We've got a prison guard killed in Pennsylvania a few days ago. So that -- it doesn't matter whose idea it was. We all voted for it.
NNAMDINevertheless, Sen. Mikulski, some Democrat...
MIKULSKINow I'm hard about this because we're all into the blame game. We've got to stop blaming and start solving problems.
SHERWOODIs there any -- can I ask about -- I was reading about the death of that prison -- correction officer. Is there any -- what is the connection between sequestration and that officer? He's the first officer killed in five years in this country, in an American prison. What is the link between that officer and sequestration? I don't quite see it.
MIKULSKIWell, certainly. Let me just say this. First of all, again, we express our sympathy to that family, and we say this, that what is now happening is the federal prisons are overcrowded. And rather -- and they -- because they're overcrowded, that many of our officers are in harm's way. And now with sequester, what we are going to face is a reduction in force or possible furloughs of our prison guards.
MIKULSKISo, in our federal prison, they will -- could face increasing danger because there won't be fewer prisoners. There's just going to be fewer correctional officers, and I'm pretty apprehensive about it.
NNAMDISen. Mikulski, I know you have to leave us shortly, but what's going to be the process from here on forward? The president is meeting with congressional leaders today. Nobody seems to know what's likely to happen there, if anything.
MIKULSKIWell, I'm pretty frustrated, OK? I really thought that what we are now facing here would be so severe, so Draconian, that we would actually come to the table and really find these sensible solutions. And I say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, when we talk about revenue, we are talking about getting rid of these loopholes.
MIKULSKIYou know, what we read in our Democratic alternative yesterday was something called the Buffett Rule, which means that people, on their second million dollars, pay the same rate of taxes as somebody making about $55,000 a year and eliminating the tax break for sending jobs overseas. Let's plug up those loopholes. This is what Romney talked about during his campaign.
MIKULSKIHe said he could come up with another $600 billion by doing it. Well, let's sit at the table and do that. Let's stop pointing fingers, and let's start pinpointing solutions, either on plugging up loopholes. And, yes, as an appropriator, I'm ready to sit down. I've got a pencil on. I can put my green eyeshade on, and let's do some of these strategic cuts.
SHERWOODSenator, if you could respond to House Speaker Boehner, who says -- and other Republicans who complain -- that the Senate has not passed a budget, that while people may not like the Republican budgets passed in the House, the Senate itself has not taken the action to pass a real budget to...
MIKULSKIWell, Tom, I think that's a valid point, and it's out there. It's part of the folklore of the Senate not doing its job. We passed the Budget Control Act in August of 2011. That instructed -- and all the budget does is instruct the Appropriations Committee on the top line of the money that it can spend. It is advisory to we on appropriations. They passed that, and that's why we on appropriations are under a cut, apart from sequester -- that's apart from sequester -- to reduce our spending over the next 10 years, and they gave us specific amounts. We passed that. We passed that. And...
MIKULSKIAnd now Sen. Murray will be on the floor the week of March 18 with a budget for fiscal year '14.
NNAMDISen. Mikulski, we know...
MIKULSKIYou know what they're not passing is the appropriations bills. The appropriations are what actually put money in the federal checkbook. The other committees are advisory to appropriations. But they want to put it on a continuing resolution, and now we face the possibility of a government shutdown on March 27. And I will tell you, I am working my earrings off that we do not have that, reaching across the aisle, reaching across the dome to House colleagues that we do not get into that, that we do have a sensible, limited solution for solving that.
NNAMDISen. Mikulski, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIBarbara Mikulski is a member of the United States Senate. She's a Democrat from Maryland. She joined us by phone. Tom, there are so many people who wanted to weigh in on this issue. I'd just like you to -- go ahead.
SHERWOODCan I just say very quickly? 'Cause I want to get to calls, too. She said the important thing here, March 27. We had the fiscal cliff at Jan. 1, we had March 1 for the sequester, and now the new deadline for which everyone's eyes are rolling is March 27.
NNAMDIWhich is a perfect introduction to the issue that Elizabeth in Richmond, Va., wanted to raise. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Even though Sen. Mikulski is no longer with us, I think you need to be heard. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHThank you, and thank you very much to Sen. Mikulski. But I actually -- I'm concerned with the tone of her and kind of instilling fear on people who are unaware of really -- when you make budget cuts in our personal finances and we can't go out to eat and we're not entitled to this or entitled to do that, we actually have to understand how all that process works.
ELIZABETHAnd what I don't agree with on the senator, again, is instilling the fear. You've got to do this or I didn't read this or Draconian on this issue or that issue. That's not an acceptable answer from a senator as far as I'm concerned as a voting member in the United States. So I just think that -- sorry. Go ahead.
NNAMDIOh, I'm very glad you raised that issue because the reports over the course of the past 48 hours have been saying that even the president has toned down his rhetoric, so to speak, on exactly how terrible this will be. So with Tom mentioning the different dates that we've been given over the course of the past few months, in addition to the president and, now, you, one has to wonder exactly what we should be fearing at this point, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, I fear the rhetoric that we have constantly about this. I went through it with the fiscal cliff...
NNAMDIMake it self-fulfilling prophecy, yeah.
SHERWOODRight. And it is. And you just find that, you know, I'll go back to Virginia, whether people like what the General Assembly did in Richmond or not parts of it, they did actually do something after -- it was really a 15, 20-year -- when I covered the legislature of Virginia back in the early '80s, people wanted to do something about transportation. This is a real major step. There've been other steps in the past, but this is a major step. It does seem, at some point, Congress needs to work together.
SHERWOODBut as Chuck Todd again was saying in his report today, the Democrats are not that worried about sequestration 'cause the money is that large and there are no going to be any big social cuts in benefits. And the Republicans aren't that worried because there aren't any revenue increases. It just going to be some cuts in the government. So maybe it's OK if it just goes through.
NNAMDIWe might be hearing exaggerations from both sides. Elizabeth, thank you for your call. I'm going to let one more person weigh in on this, and that is Jessica in Annapolis, Md. Jessica, your turn.
JESSICAYes. One of the questions that I had and I know Sen. Mikulski isn't available anymore but what really isn't being talked about is you have a lot of rhetoric, as we've been talking about, between the two sides. But nobody is really talking about the fact that the senators and their congressmen, who are supposed to be making these decisions and whose job it is, you know, they are saying, oh, we're being held hostage and they're being held hostage, but they are not actually being affected.
JESSICAIt's the citizens who are being affected, especially here in the Washington area where the sequester really will hurt the regular citizens. And what, you know, what can be done? You know, I serve jokes that what we really need to do is sequester the Congress in the Capitol building, you know, without pay until they can make their decisions and do their job. But, you know, why isn't something being done to make sure that they -- you know, they don't have any, I guess, they don't have any impetus because it's (word?) directly affecting them.
NNAMDIWell, you know, Jessica, a lot of people have suggested that if there's an adverse effect immediately on the Transportation Security Agency and members of Congress find themselves in extremely long lines for long periods of time during their obligatory trips home to raise money over the weekend that we might see a much faster solution to this than was earlier expected.
SHERWOODAnd we see people like Ellen Holmes Norton, Chris Van Hollen donating money because there's an issue with whether they get paid or not. But again, the rhetoric is the lead on all of this in all the news, all the stations -- on the TV stations, all the radio stations, on this station. The rhetoric is such that this is not a crisis around the country that some of the polling had shown. People around the country kind of know what sequestration is but is not as directly affecting them as it is in the Washington region, which happens to be the seed of government.
NNAMDIJessica, thank you very much for your call. Tom, I wanted to get back to a topic we had discussed earlier at the top of the broadcast. And that is, in this at-large race for the D.C. Council taking place on April 23, there were signatures challenged, particularly the signature of Paul Zukerberg, who is -- Zukerberg, who's a Democrat...
NNAMDI...and his signatures were challenged by a supporter of Democratic candidate Elissa Silverman, who knows a little bit about signature being challenged herself. However, Mr. Zukerberg apparently survived this challenge. And I was just wondering, was there any rancor tension as a result of this that you could -- observed in the meeting?
SHERWOODPaul is -- not really. Paul Zukerberg made a couple of references to the -- he thinks that the whole Board of Election system and the votes and how it's done is inadequate and improper. But, you know, the board itself put out a letter this week saying that it had not disqualified him, that he had the signatures beyond the ballot and he's on the ballot.
NNAMDIYep. And he is the D.C. Council candidate who is seeking to decriminalize marijuana. That seems to be...
SHERWOODBut that wasn't even the big subject last night.
NNAMDIIt did not come out?
SHERWOODNot really, no.
NNAMDII don't think that in the District of Columbia, given what's happened in the states of Washington and Colorado, that that's likely to be a major issue.
SHERWOODAnd the bookings for flights to those states have risen.
NNAMDIWe have a lot of people who are thinking of moving to those states.
SHERWOODWell, vacation at least.
NNAMDIThe other issue that we didn't get a chance to discuss was the gun control legislation that was approved by the Maryland Senate. Of course, it now has to go on to the House, but it is being described as some of the strictest gun control measures in the country. It would require residents to submit to fingerprinting, training and background checks in order to obtain a license to buy a firearm.
NNAMDIAnd that licensing provision, according to today's edition of The Washington Post, is the centerpiece of Gov. Martin O'Malley's response to the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn. and one of the most ambitious legislative attempts nationwide this year on gun control. The word ambitious is important because everybody knows that Gov. O'Malley has his eye on the 2016 run for the presidency.
SHERWOODAnd the other word is that is onerous. You can have -- the District of Columbia face this 'cause it had an outright ban and the Supreme Court, and its ruling said you could have a gun for your home protection. And so the city then started doing all kinds of legislative and procedural administrative things to make it more difficult to get the gun registered.
SHERWOODAnd so they had to cut back -- Phil Mendelson, as judiciary chairman of the time, had to cut back some of that. So the question I would have for the Maryland legislature and the law, is it onerous? If you make it where it's impossible or too difficult to have a gun, then it may run afoul with the Supreme Court.
NNAMDIAnd you'll probably hear about that when it goes before the House because, again, there's likely to be a blizzards of amendments and a more heated debate. Rallies are being scheduled, even as we speak today, in front of the State House in Annapolis, both pro the measures and against the measures. So it ain't over till it's over.
NNAMDIAnd we do have a few minutes left for some of those people who have been waiting to speak on issues for a while, so let's hear from Bill in Burke, Va. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLGood morning, good morning. A comment regarding politicians in general and mostly those up on the Hill. I'm quoting Pogo, if you remember him. We have...
NNAMDIYes. Tom and I certainly do.
SHERWOODI can say that quote before you, but you go ahead since you called. We have met the enemy...
BILLAnd that is us.
NNAMDIYes, that's the Pogo quote.
BILLHave a great day.
NNAMDIYou, too, my friend. Bill, thank you for calling. Here is Eric in Annapolis, Md. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICHey, Kojo, thanks for taking the call. Backing up into the sequester, a couple times, an article has been mentioned that the Democratic platform really doesn't have an interest in stopping the sequester because it doesn't have a whole lot of social impact, but really it does because there's really a million federal workers that are going to be affected by this sequester. And the majority of them are the middle class. And they're taking the 20 percent pay cut because of the mandatory furloughs if they do, in fact, take effect. I'll go off...
NNAMDIWell, before you go off the air, Eric. A lot of people have said that some Democrats have suggested that these sequester cuts, to defense in particular, may not be such a bad thing because a lot of progressive have been pushing for those cuts to the Pentagon over many, many years. How do you see it?
ERICWell, what I see is that we're taking cuts in defense. I understand that. But across the board, we're taking cuts in intelligence, too. So how are we going to implement the defense cuts with few resources and then point those resources with policy makers who need the intelligence in order to point the right direction?
ERICThe sequester just is -- it's really is a bludgeon that I get it, and what I don't understand is how in a responsible government we can let this happen and let people take 20 percent pay cut that the third -- second and third-order effects are going to affect everything from property values to, you know, our -- the defense of our nation, you know, if this is (unintelligible)...
SHERWOODI don't think the cuts are 20 percent. If you take one day of furlough, that's a 20 percent cut that day, I mean, that week. But for the long period of time, it's not a total 20 percent cut in pay. And there are some people who are telling me here in town that this maybe the threat. But by the time you get to April and May and June, in those weeks, it may occur that the Congress will have solve this issue and there won't be the furloughs. But it certainly is a danger for the people who have families.
NNAMDIAnd, Eric, you used the term responsible government. If one looks at the polls showing how people in the United States think of Congress, I don't think the word responsible is a word that you'd be able to apply. Eric, thank you very much for your call. We've just about ran out of time. Thank you all for your calls. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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