WILLIAMSBURG – U.S. Sen. Mark Warner made a nuanced, detailed and lengthy pitch to local Kiwanis members Wednesday, hitting his bipartisan bona fides hard as he asked voters to re-elect him.
Warner, a Democrat, described himself as "relentlessly bipartisan," despite GOP challenger Ed Gillespie's repeated recitation of the senator's voting record — 97 percent agreement with President Barack Obama.
Warner noted, as various fact checkers have, that this statistic deals only with a slice of U.S. Senate votes, many of them routine confirmation votes. He called for independent redistricting to avoid governing by extremes and said both parties need better leadership in Washington. But he hedged on whether he'd back Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the next Congress.
"Both parties could do better with their leadership," he said, declining to give a yes or no answer to a Kiwanis member's question.
Warner criticized Gillespie's health care plan, which Gillespie rolled out late last week. Warner said it's better to fix what's wrong with the Affordable Care Act, much like Congress fixed problems with Medicare following its launch.
He spoke at length about the federal debt, saying he'd support a grand bargain on tax and entitlement reform. He said corporate tax rates should be rolled back, and pegged 28 percent as a realistic target later in the day, during a conference call with the Daily Press' editorial board.
He backed a proposal to tie federal benefit increases to the consumer price index and said he supports a one-year delay for Social Security eligibility — to age 63 from the current age 62 — for people who are now under 35. That's all part of a plan that he and five other senators — the so-called Gang of Six — advanced several years ago.
Warner said he wants to eliminate various tax breaks, then flatten and lower rates. Then some of the more popular breaks – such as the deduction for home mortgage interest – could be put back in, he said.
"And at the end of the day, the tax code's got to produce a little more revenue," Warner said, calling for rates more in line with the ones the country used in the 1990s.
Locally, Warner said he supports funding to dredge the Port of Virginia to 60 feet to make way for larger ships coming through the Panama Canal. He called, as he has repeatedly, for an end to sequestration in the military budget.
He said Hampton Roads has a chance to leverage existing programs to grow in several areas, including the commercial space industry, advanced composites, drone systems and cyber security.
Virginia can become "the Silicon Valley of unmanned aerial systems," he said.
Fain can be reached by phone at 757-525-1759.