These are extraordinary times, he summed up the situation as he has joined the Senate, and our President faces enormous problems, not only the economic challenges, but obviously the breakdown in our healthcare system, the transformation needed in our energy policy, as well as two wars.
"But I think he is leading with distinction… we are turning the corner of where we need to head…I like to point out to a lot of folks who say … 'why haven't we seen a complete economic revival already?' I think that the administration has taken some enormous steps forward."Warner candidly remarked that the administration has not done a good job marketing its efforts. He pointed out that more than a third of the money in the stimulus plan has been in tax cuts. Another third was to make sure that the states did not have to take even more draconian steps to meet their budgets. Both have relieved Republican and Democratic legislators from the burden of irreconcilable dilemmas. And the last third has been on projects that have been unachievable no matter how much effort has been put into them for decades: high speed rail, energy, healthcare IT, and comparative effectiveness research. Those dollars are just starting to be spent now.
"If we had listened to those who are on the other side who said 'Let's do nothing,' I believe we would have had a national catastrophe."What, he said he did not fully appreciate until he arrived in Washington and became a member of the banking committee, despite his background in business, was just how close we came to a complete economic meltdown last year that could have created an absolute depression. He believes we could have been looking at "north of 20% unemployment" and a complete collapse of our financial system. He looked back at the beginning of the Obama administration and into March and emphasized that if then they had predicted that by Labor Day, the stock market would be up 50%, banks repaying TARP funds, and housing markets stabilized, they would have been called wildly optimistic. But that is what has happened. Surely the unemployment figures are way too high, he reminded the crowd, and we still have a way to go to see the full beginnings of a recovery, but there has been bold, decisive action.
"Doing nothing on healthcare will totally bankrupt the country."Turning to healthcare, Warner warned that doing nothing is no option. The fastest growing part of our budget is not education or transportation but in Medicare and Medicaid. Even if you don't receive assistance from those programs, if you have private insurance, over the next decade the premiums will double unless we can drive the cost curve on healthcare down. So, he said, the notion that we can do nothing and continue the status quo is just not acceptable. You can argue the issue on coverage and on social issues but in just plain dollars and cents, the current system is unsustainable. If we don't take this issue and fix it or at least move down the path toward reform, we are not, he assessed, going to have the kind of economic recovery we all desperately want to see.
"I campaigned as: if you hired me I would become a bipartisan radical centrist. I am still trying to do that. It's awfully hard in Washington in these days. You've got a lot of folks on the other side who seem to be more about trying to defeat the President than they are about trying to get the country back on the right path."And yet, he concluded, he has a lot more faith about getting things done today than he did just a few months ago. "While the sausage making is not always terribly attractive, I think the final product is going to head us in the right direction."
Cross posted at VBDems