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Warner told the workers that Congress is ‘a pretty frustrating place.'
Friday, August 23, 2013
The railroad electrician’s question about Washington gridlock had Sen. Mark Warner almost tripping over his tongue with his pent-up vexation at his fellow politicians.
“It’s a pretty frustrating place where I work because it shouldn’t be that hard to put your country first, and not be just on the red-shirt team or the blue-shirt team,” Warner told the town meeting of Norfolk Southern workers Thursday.
But he said the railroaders could help — no matter what their own politics happen to be.
“Don’t vote for anyone who signs one of those stupid pledges, whether it’s not to raise taxes or not to touch entitlements,” he said. “Turn off Fox News and MSNBC. If you’re a Democrat, consider voting for a Republican who talks about raising revenue. If you’re a Republican, vote for Democrat if they’re talking about dealing with entitlements.”
But, he added later, “if you don’t vote and say the heck with it, all you’re doing is empowering the extremists on both sides … the wing nuts are going to vote.”
The message resonated.
“He spoke with some feeling,” said self-described conservative Jason Burkeholder, an electrician at the Shaffers Crossing freight yard. “It made sense to me.”
Darryl Perdue said he liked Warner’s emphasis on the need for people to work together.
“That’s why I got two different boots on,” he joked, pointing to his mismatched pair. “One’s Republican, one’s Democrat.”
Warner fielded a series of tough questions on coal, the decline of manufacturing and what he planned to do with his new post as chairman of the Senate subcommittee that focuses on railroads and surface transportation.
He said he’d work to try to shift cargo from taxpayer-funded highways to railroads.
“If you get more trucks off the road, they’ll last longer,” he said. “Less traffic would help … we all say a prayer before we get onto (Interstate) 81 now.”
Earlier, Warner stopped by the Roanoke regional office of the Veterans Affairs to ask about efforts to speed claims processing.
There’s been progress, he said, but there’s still a ways to go.
Warner said he was encouraged that the College of William and Mary’s Lewis B. Puller Jr. Veterans Benefit Clinic has just joined a new outreach initiative of the VA. The idea is to have outside experts, like William and Mary law students, help veterans with their claims. The William and Mary effort is meant to help veterans from across Virginia, whose claims are processed in Roanoke.
“I think we’re making process, but we’re still working on it. We’re still north of 250 days (to process claims) and that’s not good enough,” Warner said.
Roanoke regional office director Keith Wilson said the agency should complete converting all of its paper records to electronic files by the end of next month, while its new computer-based claims system already has cut the backlog of unprocessed claims by 20 percent.
He said the Roanoke office is on track to cut average claims processing time to 125 days by 2015.
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