Jim Webb: 10 Questions

Jim Webb: 10 Questions

Don’t make the mistake of thinking of Jim Webb as Senator Pothole. The freshman United States Senator swept into office 100 days ago with a mandate from Virginia voters to help fix bigger ticket items like the war in Iraq, a surging immigrant tid

e, the trade imbalance with China and issues of economic fairness.
Finding fixes for small craters on I-395 does not figure into Webb’s sweeping agenda; finding affordable pills for his constituents does.
In one of his first extended interviews since taking office, Sen. Webb sat down recently with editors from The Alexandria Times and Times Community Newspapers for a progress report at the three-month mark. Webb spoke candidly on a wide range of issues.
His son serving in Iraq.  I respectfully decline to talk about my son’s involvement. He’ll be home at the end of next month, the end of May. I’m looking forward to getting them home. I will say they’re in a hard place, in terms of what’s going on over there. As you can quite imagine, having pulled a few tours yourself, once they change the dates, the morale factor becomes tough.
Most important issue facing the country. Let me just say for two minutes. Your last question, at the last Editorial Board Meeting in Leesburg, what did I think was the most important issue facing this country? I outlined two. One is how we deal with China, in a variety of ways. The other is how this country has broken down along class lines since the 1880s. They pretty much remain the two most important issues. China is emblematic of what we need to do strategically as a country, in a variety of different areas. And then the issue of economic fairness. What I have doing since I came into office. It’s where we left it last time.
Economic fairness. I asked for committee assignments which would allow me to address major issues. I ran on three major themes: Restoring the national security posture of this country, economic fairness and accountability. Accountability takes care of itself. After some negotiation, I got assignments on the [Senate] Foreign Services Committee, Veterans Committee and Joint Economic Committtee. You are addressing major themes, one piece of legislation at a time. I have a philisophy which I call the 80-20 rule. I actually started this 24 years ago. So much time is spent in government with day-to-day policy matters, about 80%, and then 20% of my time is spent on what we call trajectory issues. The whole issue of how you put together the issues to bring economic fairness back to this country. There are 5-6 ways, I believe.  I have someone working full time on these economic fairness issues.
In terms of statistics, one of the reasons I got so adamamt about this issue is because of Pete Wilson, a Harvard MBA who served as governor of California. I was telling him that corporate profits are at an all time high bu there’s still tagnation in the wages. Medical costs have skyrocketed. Those are inarguable. The traditional Democratic Rubin philosophy of globalizaton argues that the way we have approached internationalization has really hurt the American worker. It has started to bleed upwards into the middle class. How do we build incentives to keep businesses?
The costs of the Iraq war. This could end up becoming a $2 trillion war. When we started, oil was at $24 a barrel and it got all the way up to $72 a barrel. In addition to that, this was an unnecessary war which is costing us $2.5 billion a week. That’s the wrong place to put this money. Infrastructure in this country is really hurting. We’re trying to get broadband in rural, poor areas, and new roads, highways and bridges built. Katrina was the last event which convinced me that I actually wanted to run for office. How that city got wiped out. Just the lack of forward planning there. Infrastructure is an area where we need to put money.
The health care system is not broken but it’s not what you want to see in the richest country in the world. I have a sister who who can’t get affordable prescriptions. As a veteran, I can get a prescription filled for $5 or $10. I think we have gone so far to the insurance side that so much of the money has gone to the [big business of] insurance itself.

Medical costs have gone up 72%. People have been pulling money out of their homes for these kinds of costs. Whate we need is preventative health care for every American.
What’s been accomplished in first 100 days.  Well, let me just say the major frustration is that the first 3 or 4 months has been spent answering questions just like that [laughs]. What I have done in 3 months? You know, people work so hard to campaign. and then it’s like ‘Yeah, we won. Now let’s put a transition team together.’  But I’ve got 2000 letters to answer and three people working for me. We took 3 1/2 months to put together a world-class staff. A staff which would respond to every constituent issue. I wiill match this staff against any that’s been put together.
Foreign Relations is the busiest committee in the Senate and Armed Services is the second busiest.  And both geared up on Iraq on my first day in the Senate. It’s the most important issue facing the Government right now. The last three months we have been spending an enormous amount of time on this issue. On the diplomatic side, we’ve been looking at where the failures have been.
Learning curve.  If I may say, I bring a set of qualifications to this job.  I’ve spent years in Asia. I’ve covered three wars. I’ve been on the ground. I have reported on politics. I have written regularly for the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Jounral. My long experience in the military, the Pentagon and journalism has given me a jump-start to get things going. What the procedural mechanisms are to get a bill through is why you have a good staff.
Relationship with John Warner.  I’m really proud of my relationship with John Warner. From day one, we have started to work together. In trems of federal judgeships we have worked out a methodology. That’s very important to the people of Virginia that John Warner and I are working together. Virginia, next to California, brings in more money, $45 billion per year for DoD programs back to the state. We’re working together. We’ve co-sponsored bills together, such as No Child Left Behind.
Purely in terms of constituent services, we have a tremendous office in Richmond. They have long experience. Conway Haskins is our state director and is doing a great job. The first break we had over President’s Weekend I went down to southwest Virginia and became the first Senator ever to meet with the Coal Council down there. I think we’ve done a lot for the people of Virginia in our first 100 days.
Dominion’s power line. I think we’ve been trying to deal with it in a responsible way. I can start off by saying that when I was in southwest Virginia, the Appalachian Power Company had doubled its rates. People who live on fixed incomes suddenly got a doubling of their rates. The evaluator in Richmond said it looked like they jacked the prices up. But there’s no doubt more power is needed in Northern Virginia. Can you achieve this through efficiencies? On the other hand, it’s a two-step process with the State Corporation Commission. I can’t see not bringing more power up here, with the growth in Northern Virginia.
BRAC, Fort Belvoir and Walter Reed. The first thing, with respect to Walter Reed, These issues are deservedly tough issues. I’m a product of military medicine. There’s a transitional period after their basic military treatement is done. There really was a leadership failure in terms of putting these people on hold for so long.  The VA ha
s gotten bogged down. Increase of number of veterans coming into the system. They’re looking at the VA system as a fall-back. The VA is getting hit from two different directions, so thus you had a 600,0000 claim backlog. How are you going to solve this problem? On the VA side of this, these kinds of problems are best addressed by facts.
I visited the VA recently, and we went to see how many claims adjudicators they had. They had 5700 claims adjudicators covering 109 claims per year, with 600,000 claims and the are still coming. Point # 1 is they need more leadership.  On the other side, they need to have the assets to fix the problem.
With respect to Walter Reed Hospital moving to Fort Belvoir, I’ve raised some questions about whether they really should move.  The Fairfax County Parkway needs funding, and I’ve been talking to Gerry Connolly and Sen. Warner’s staff to get some appropriations money to get things going faster.
Immigration. I can say from the campaign when we polled it, immigation was around number four , but in terms of emotion, it was number one. Incredible emotions. The best enforcement mechanism I believe is at the employer level. I don’t like large scale guest working programs. The enormity of this is somethng we have to accept. You can’t go into LA and pretend to round people up, people who have truly put their roots down. On the one hand, their jobs are going overseas. They’re really paralyzed. It’s really in their best interest that we bring them into the work force.
Thanks you all for your time.