By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
In a Congress seemingly paralyzed by partisan gridlock, U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8) said he takes heart from a series of small accomplishments during his first term on Capitol Hill.
Representing Virginia’s 8th District, Beyer pointed to his work with local airports on the flight patterns up and down the Potomac River, restoring local authorities’ power to regulate tow truck companies, and a study on helicopter noise around military bases among others.
Beyer said with almost two years under his belt, he has found ways to work with both parties.
“The relationships take a lot more time to build, especially because when we’re in session we’re only in two and a half days a week,” he said. “They’re coming, not just with my fellow Democrats but with a lot of my fellow Republicans too. That’s ultimately where good legislation comes from: getting good bipartisan consensus on important issues. I think we can look back over the last two years and say we got a lot of little things done.”
Beyer is running for re-election in a district that includes the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, all of Arlington County and sections of Fairfax County. Opposing him on the ballot are Republican challenger Charles Hernick and In- dependent Julio Gracia, while Mike Webb is running a write-in campaign.
Beyer said during his first term in Congress, he has voted with his conscience more often than for political expediency.
He was one of 28 Democrats who voted to support the passage of the Trade Promotion Authority that gave President Barack Obama legal authority to negotiate the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal before sending it to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote.
Beyer also voted unsuccessfully to sustain Obama’s veto on legislation that would allow the families of victims killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia, and voted against a House resolution banning all Syrians from entering the United States, drafted after the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015.
He also said he was proud to introduce what he called the Religious Freedom Act, a one-sentence bill that said no one could be denied legitimate entry to the country because of their religious beliefs. Beyer said the “symbolic” reaction to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. allowed him to gather Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Catholics and other religious groups on the House floor to promote the bill.
But there are a number of challenges ahead that Beyer will face if he wins re-election in a district he took with 63.1 percent of the vote in 2014.
Beyer said he plans to spearhead an effort to reform Congress’ budget process, which has broken down in recent years due to partisan in-fighting and a lack of agreement between the parties. With Congress continually relying on continuing resolutions to prevent the federal government from shutting down, Beyer said changes must be made.
He said there must be greater collaboration between members of the House and Senate budget and appropriations committees, with more members serving on both. And he said the budget committees should be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
These perhaps seem like drastic measures, but are ideas Beyer said need to be explored.
“I’ll be astonished if it passes,” he said. “But I do think it’s so important and we need to be out there arguing for it, and I need to be taking the time to go and see every member of the House and saying, ‘Look, please sign onto this, it makes sense.’ … There has to be some kind of budget reform to force us to responsibly develop a budget on time.”
Another key issue for Beyer is that of climate change and environmental protection, something he already has tried to advance through service on the committees on natural re- sources and on science, space and technology.
To help combat the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere, Beyer said he supports a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.-8) to introduce a carbon cap and trade program that generates revenues per ton of carbon dioxide put into the air. He said he also wants to change the conversation around climate change.
“One of my goals as a candidate, and I stick with it right now, I would really want the climate change debate not to be politicized if at all possible,” Beyer said. “It shouldn’t be Democrat vs. Republican, it shouldn’t be liberal vs. conservative, and it shouldn’t be a matter of religious belief. We should be able to come back to the science.”
During this term, Congress passed the first long-term highway funding bill in 10 years, but Beyer said more must be done in Congress to address the country’s crumbling infrastructure, ideally by passing a bill that provides more funding.
On the local level, Beyer said he favors increased federal funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which is in the midst of its SafeTrack program to do three years of maintenance in one year to get the Metrorail system up to a good level of repair and safety.
Beyer said the federal government must take responsibility to help close a $275 million funding gap, as half the federal workforce in the D.C. region takes Metro each day. But he said the local jurisdictions also must work together and do their part.
The campaign is nearing its end, with Election Day on November 8.