In his fifth year on Capitol Hill, Warner (D) acknowledges that he won’t get the immediate gratification that came with being chief executive. Instead, he has become a fixture in the media as the face of deal-friendly centrism, a role that gives him the opportunity to nudge the debate.
And while his poll numbers at home remain stratospheric, Warner has not decided whether to run for reelection next year or follow the example of Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who retired after one term with his own set of frustrations.
Warner’s patience is thinnest when it comes to the federal budget impasse, now manifesting itself in the form of automatic spending cuts. As co-leader of the bipartisan group originally known as the Gang of Six, he spent two years pleading with congressional leaders and the White House to strike a long-term fiscal plan.
Her uses phrases like “debacle” and “embarrassment” to describe the way Congress has fashioned a series of last-minute, slapped-together deals. The sequester, he says, is “the stupidest of all ways” to pare the budget.
“All of these negotiations have become the same folks in the same room at the 11th hour,” Warner laments. Asked how he can get in that room, Warner responded with an exasperated laugh: “I am trying!”
Virginia’s governorship is an unusually powerful post, limited to one breakneck term, while in the Senate it can take a decade or more for a lawmaker to score a key committee post or a signature achievement.
“As governor every day that I lost . . . I knew wasn’t coming back to me,” said Warner, adding that in the Senate “the challenge is keeping an edge and not going crazy.”
Getting out of ‘foxholes’
At a gathering of dozens of defense and technology executives in Reston last month, Warner delivered a blunt message, underscoring his aggravation. He scolded the private sector — particularly the defense industry — saying it shares some blame for the budget cuts because it had not done enough to back earlier deficit-reduction efforts.
“Yeah, [Congress] ought to get 80, 90, whatever percent of the blame. But you ought to take some of the blame, too,” Warner told an aerospace industry lobbyist who asked why Congress had not gotten serious about the budget. Outside interest groups need to get out of their narrow “foxholes” the same way lawmakers need to do, he said.
“I think Mark’s been frustrated by that, and I see it” said Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-Va.). “People come and talk to me about, ‘Boy, we’ve got to be austere’ . . . and at the same time they’re asking for their next appropriation.”