Q&A with Rep. Tom Davis
Tuesday, March 3, 1998
Rep. Tom Davis (AP)
Levey Live appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m., Eastern time. Itís your chance to talk directly to major newsmakers and to Washington Post reporters and editors.
Our guest today is Rep. Thomas R. Davis III, who represents Virginiaís 11th District in Congress. Davis is a Republican who is serving his third term. He chairs the House Government and Oversight subcommittee on the District of Columbia and is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Science Committee.
Before being elected to Congress, Tom Davis was chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Previously, he was vice president and general counsel of a high tech company in McLean. He is 49 years old and a graduate of Amherst College and The University of Virginia law school. He is married and has three children.
Dan Murano for The Washington Post
Among the issues we will discuss with Davis today are the status and future of the District of Columbia, the future of Lorton Reformatory, the recent renaming of National Airport and the prospects for continued Republican control of Congress.
Your questions and comments are welcome throughout the hour.
Why does Congress continue to change the benchmarks for the return of democracy in the District of Columbia? For that matter, why is democracy in D.C. a conditional state? Other jurisdictions of the country have had problems with corruption (Arizona, Illinois, Orange County, Calif., etc.) and no one has even suggested that they lose their democratic rights.
Rep. Tom Davis: Under the Constitution, Congress, not city voters, have responsibility for the running of the nation's capital. Although we would like to do this in the context of home rule, it is clear that some strong decision had to be made to get the city back on its feet. Therefore, a control board was established to assist local decision making. I am hopeful that democracy as it used to be will be restored to the democracy in short order. But continuous progress has to be made in service delivery and financial management for Congress to go along. So far, no benchmarks have been moved. And I am hopeful that no benchmarks will be moved. But pressure on all involved needs to continue to bring about the changes our nation's capital deserves. Even if it means postponing full representation for the city a short while longer.
I am an independent voter with strong Republican leanings. I was excited to see the Republicans take control of the House and Senate in '94 but very disappointed with what they have done. It is simply more business as usual. Do you feel the Republicans have lost their way?
Rep. Tom Davis: Having established a balanced budget with tax cuts, a large part of the Republican mandate was completed. Other areas, such as tort reform, regulatory reform and defense policy have met with presidential vetoes -- sometimes to the point of confrontations [on] closing down the government. To be realistic, we haven't lost our way, but we are confined by having a Democratic president and having realistic expectations about what can be accomplished.
Many of the issues raised in 1995 will be resurrected and accomplished in the long term. But for the short term, we have elected to do the doable, rather than [force] confrontations that we cannot win and have often lost in the political battles.
With the mid-term elections in November, we are hopeful of increasing our 11-vote margin to allow us more flexibilty to bring forward our agenda.
How do you feel about retrocession of the District of Columbia to Maryland? Many people on both sides of the political fence feel that this would "fix what's broken" better than any other remedy. It would provide voting rights instantly, for example, and it would reduce the dependence of D.C. residents on Congress. Your thoughts?
Rep. Tom Davis: Retrocession to Maryland makes a lot of sense, except that Maryland doesn't want the District. That raises huge procedural and constitutional problems -- ... retroceding land to a state that doesn't want it. In the attorney general's opinion on this issue, [it] maintains that an amendment is the only way for Maryland to take it back.
There were lots of reasons not to rename National Airport, and no compelling ones for doing so, other than as a birthday present for an ailing ex-president. Even if you ignore the concerns of the air traffic controllers, whose livelihood President Reagan vindictively stripped from them, and the fact that the renaming of the airport substituted the name of a Californian for that of a Virginian, what happened to that icon of Republicanism, local government and control, rather than federal big-brotherism? Shouldn't Congress have bowed to the fact that the local body charged with administering the airport and the congressman in whose district the airport lies were strongly opposed to the change?
Rep. Tom Davis: I offered an amendment on the House floor that would not have allowed the airport's name to be changed without the approval of the local airport's authority. We lost this vote 215-206. I believe that would have been the more prudent course. I do believe that the inclusion of the words Washington National Airport will allow people to call it what they will. It is sad that this name change was pushed and became so controversal. Ronald Reagan deserves better, and local citizens deserve better.
Little-known fact: At one time, Tom Davis was a White House intern. That's a rather controversial job to have held, in light of the Monica Lewinsky fracas. But seriously, do you foresee lasting damage to the White House intern program? Won't it be the butt of jokes -- very bad jokes -- for years?
Rep. Tom Davis: Unfortunately, I am sure that White House intern jokes which are currently in great currency will be around for a long time. This whole episode is very sad. And I doubt we will ever know the truth about what really transpired. Still, I'd allow my kids to be White House interns. Not withstanding the current controversy, government service is still an honorable and respectable profession.
I would like to know where Congressman Davis stands on the so-called "marriage tax." When my fiancee and I marry next year we are looking at a nearly $2,000 tax increase! Eliminating this unfair penalty seems to be a "no brainer." Why hasn't Congress addressed this problem?
Rep. Tom Davis: I am a cosponsor of legislation to eliminate the marriage penalty. Government policies should encourage marriage and keeping families together, not drive them apart.
When is the toll to be removed from the Dulles Toll Road? It seems unfair for those in Reston and Herndon to have to pay a toll when no one else in the state does.
Rep. Tom Davis: I doubt that the state of Virginia will ever remove the tolls. They could be removed when the bonds for the road are paid off. However, surplus toll revenues can be good seed money for [a] future rail system to Reston and Dulles and can pay for improved maintenance. A lot of commuters paying the toll are Maryland residents who commute to Reston and Dulles for business purposes. However, this is a state decision and if a rail system is ever taken off the table, the tolls could be removed.
I would like to find out as to whether there is a big chance that the Lorton prison, which is owned and operated by D.C. government, will be relocated outside the jurisdiction of Virginia? Last year, there was a strong move to pursue this task but it died an "instant death" in the bill.
Thank you for your comments.
Rep. Tom Davis: Lorton prision will close in the year 2001 under legislation I sponsored. The prisoners will be scattered to various sites outside the Northern Virginia area, including southern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and perhaps southern Virginia. Rep. [Tom] Moran (D-Va.) has also been helpful in bringing about this closure, and we intend to pursue bringing as much of the Lorton area into open space as soon as possible.
New York, N.Y.:
Why can't we seem to cut programs which hurt the environment and waste taxpayer dollars? Will you, Congressman Davis, support efforts to slash harmful subsidies to corporate polluters, including subsidies to the timber, oil and coal industries?
Rep. Tom Davis: Actually, the Congress has cut significantly corporate welfare in a number of areas, including timber subsidies and petroleum research. [The] timber industry makes an annual fight of trying to harvest dead wood in national parks. And they have generally been supported by the U.S. Forest Service. The administration has been inconsistent on these issues, but clearly subsidies have been cut over the last three years as we move toward a balanced budget.
With the proposed legislation to force the president to honor the 1990 pay law, unless there is a bona fide recession, do you think that there is really a chance for the next few years' raises to close the gap?
Rep. Tom Davis: I think that we have a shot at changing the definition of severe economic conditions and allowing federal employees to get catch-up pay that would bring them closer to comparable private-sector salaries. How can you have severe economic conditions when the stock market is at an all-time high, inflation is in check, and unemployment is at a 25-year low? The legislation Rep. [Steny] Hoyer, [Rep. Frank] Wolf and myself introduced would allow salaries to raise to their appropriate levels unless we are in a recession. This makes sense and can be done in the context of a balanced budget. It is a multi-year effort to makes these changes.
When you recently criticized Marion Barry for using D.C. police officers as his personal security detail, Barry said you didn't know what you were talking about. Any reply?
Rep. Tom Davis: I know perfectly well what I am talking about. The D.C. mayor has more armed escorts than many heads of state and still he needs overtime from these employees to pick up his bags and gifts from the airport. I think that everyone understands this, except the mayor.
Half an hour remaining with our guest, Virginia Rep. Thomas M. Davis III.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Are you involved with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge issue? If this is not resolved it could have a tremendous impact on D.C. What are your thoughts?
Rep. Tom Davis: I am on the Transportation Committee and with a new highway authorization bill currently pending, we believe that we can get enough money to fund the bridge. Obviously, if the bridge fell into the river, it would cripple transportation up and down the river. There may be a lot of posturing by members trying to get money for their favorite projects. But at the [end of the] day, I think that [there] will be the money for the bridge.
I work at a headquarters office in D.C. that is scheduled for a new building. The rumors are that we must stay in the District. With VA losing thousands of Navy jobs from Crystal City to the Navy Yard and Maryland, is a relocation to Northern Virginia near a Metro stop out of the question?
Rep. Tom Davis: I think the government's role should be to get the best buildings for the lowest cost, period. I wholeheartedly reject the notion of set asides, quotas or political correctness tests for federal office buildings. It is not fair to the taxpayers or to the workers involved. As a practical matter, this city will do very well in competitive procurement for buildings, as will Northern Virginia. But if we allow other factors to drive decisions, [other] than value to our taxpayers and safety of our workers, we make bad decisions.
Were you surprised that Rep. Bill Paxon resigned the other day? What does this mean for the future of the Republican party in the House?
Rep. Tom Davis: I was shocked that Bill Paxon resigned. I think he could have been a great leader and perhaps speaker of the House. However, political life can be grueling and I respect his decision to spend time with his wife and daughter. I will always count him a friend without whose efforts I probably [would] not have been elected to Congress.
Why is there such a rampant real estate development in a small area? New homes and strip malls have been constructed near the Fairoaks and Fairlakes area, which is creating congestion and a paucity of open space. Recently the only available ground near Fairlakes Parkway was used for construction of a strip mall. There are apartment complexes coming up adjacent to I-66, and some trees were leveled down to construct homes. At this pace, we are endangering the health and security of people who live here. Could something be done about it?
Rep. Tom Davis: During strong economic times, growth in Northern Virginia has always surged. As you note, it grows so fast that it appears little effort and thought is being given to preservation of open space and sometimes quality development. That is why I have opposed the plans for substantial development at the Lorton site after the prison is closed. Growth is regulated by the county Board of Supervisors and the Virginia General Assembly. In Virginia, local boards have limited control over development decisions once made.
Are the D.C. schools improving? What must be done to accelerate their improvement?
Rep. Tom Davis: Yes. The structural problems of the D.C. school system are taking a long time to fix. The city has tough demographics, very little information technology and a decade of poor leadership and management. I believe that things are getting better, safer -- better teaching techniques, and better training of managers and teachers. In addition, physical improvement to school buildings are moving at a record rate. However, it may take several years before we see the kind of improvement we demand in Fairfax.
To a more important subject: baseball. Any chance of Northern Virginia getting a major league team? Any chance of Tom Davis being the starting first baseman?
Rep. Tom Davis: Yes. No. I think Northern Virginia's marketplace will eventually attract a major league baseball team. The closest I will ever get to first base are in box seats behind the dugout, if I'm lucky.
After the current crisis is over, what form of government do you foresee for Washington, D.C.?
Rep. Tom Davis: I personally favor a strong mayor form of government as opposed to a city manager form. If you look at New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland and other cities [that] have come back from bankruptcy, they all did it with strong mayors, not strong bureaucrats. It is unfortunate that congressional leaders try to form a governmental structure for the city around Mayor Barry, instead of looking [into] what a strong leadership can do. I do think that Congress will have a dialogue with city residents over what structure future city governments will be.
Do you think the control board has made progress? I was very excited when Congress appointed the board, and when the board replaced the school superintendent. However, it seems that now those appointees are becoming as entrenched as their predecessors. I don't have the feeling that they are trying for a radical fix to D.C.'s problems, but spend more time defending the status quo.
Rep. Tom Davis: I think the control board has made significant progress. Crime is down, financial management is much improved. The city has a surplus this year and is projected to have one next year. The city's bond rating has been improved, home prices are raising and investment in the city is up. Am I satisfied? No. But we can't score a touchdown on the first play. We are just trying to move the ball down the field and move the city into scoring position after years of fumbling the ball and being penalized.
The Virginia state government recently announced plans to rebuild the intersection of Shirley Highway and the Beltway in Springfield. The reconstruction is expected to take 11 years. This is a disaster waiting to happen unless Northern Virginians fall out of love with their cars to at least some extent. How can you and the federal government help them do so?
Rep. Tom Davis: The only way the federal government can help is with money. I believe that [the] new highway authorization bill will generate well over a hundred millions dollars more than they previously received by changing funding formulas. It is up to the state to then allocate federal dollars to projects and priorities they support.
Everyone on Capitol Hill seems to hate and fear fund-raising, yet neither house has seen fit to change the rules in any serious way. Why not? Will it ever happen? Would you favor reform even if it might affect your chances of re-election?
Rep. Tom Davis: Campaign finance reform is one of the easiest issues to demagogue in Congress. If you cannot curb independent expenditures by special interest groups or stop the multi-millionaire from purchasing office by eliminating the poor guy's ability to raise money, what have you accomplished? You simply changed the problem. I believe the one reform I would require is to make members raise the majority of their money in their own district.
Follow-up on retrocession of the District to Maryland: If you think it's a good idea and Bob Levey thinks it's a good idea and everyone else you talk to thinks it's a good idea -- what's the problem? Is it an issue of race?
Rep. Tom Davis: Maryland does not want the District of Columbia. The governor has made that clear and so has the congressional delegation. I doubt we can get 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of the states to roll over Maryland to achieve retrocession. It is a very practical obstacle.
When are trains going to be given the same government subsidies that cars are? I think it's ridiculous that Metro must be self-sufficient when we spend billions of dollars of taxpayers' money on roads and bridges. Light-rail trains (like Metro) ease congestion by taking people off roads. Freight trains take the dangerous 18-wheelers off the government-subsidized roads.
Rep. Tom Davis: I doubt rail will ever get the same amount of subsidy that roads get simply because roads go everywhere and rail is limited in its destinations. However, I think that we should spend more money investing in rail and other mass-transit options.
Charles Town, W. Va.:
Just wanted to thank you for all of your effort with the pay levels of federal workers.
Rep. Tom Davis: Thank you, and we have just begun to fight. This is the battle for the next decade. If we want a truly professional workforce, we have to pay them appropriately.
Washington, D.C. (not a state):
How long will it take for Congress to call for an independent counsel when a Republican president is elected?
Rep. Tom Davis: A long time.
The Washington Post reported last year that you might consider running for the Senate when John Warner's term expires in 2002. Any firm plans?
Rep. Tom Davis: No firm plans. I hope Senator Warner runs for re-election. i think he is doing a great job. If he doesn't, then we'll certainly consider it.
That's it for this week. Join us next week at the same time for a look at the Lewinsky-Clinton story.
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