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Virginia Lawmakers Divided On Obama's 2013 Budget

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President Obama's budget for 2013  is a boon for Virginia in some areas, and a bitter pill in others.
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President Obama's budget for 2013  is a boon for Virginia in some areas, and a bitter pill in others.

President Obama's budget proposal -- released this month -- includes many sweeteners for Virginia lawmakers but also some pain pills for the Commonwealth.

First the good news: The biggest win for Virginia is the military and communities near bases. The Navy has rescinded its plan to move a nuclear powered aircraft carrier from Norfolk to Florida, meaning thousands of seamen will continue to burn their paychecks in Virginia. That decision has angered Florida lawmakers, but Democratic Senator Jim Webb says it shouldn't.

"You know, I've tried to get away from this Virginia versus Florida debate, and I think if you look at over the projected timeline, it's a proper utilization of the Navy's projected force structure," says Webb.

But the military's decision now pits the Virginia delegation against Florida lawmakers, who want the Navy to change its course yet again. Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio is a Tea Party favorite, and even so, he says spending up to a billion dollars to move the carrier to Florida is smart because it breaks up the east coast's carrier fleet in southeastern Virginia.

"Well I think ultimately, first and foremost, the number one issue we should have is our national defense," says Rubio. "And in terms of saving a lot of money I think those arguments are nebulous at best."

Now the losses: The Pentagon also wants to relocate some of Virginia's amphibious ships that launch troops into battle. All told, the state is expected to lose around 3,000 troops.

Webb, a former secretary of the Navy, says it's a good tradeoff: "There will be structural changes that affect Norfolk, but the carriers will stay."

In his State of the Union address, the president called for an all-of-the-above energy policy, but his budget request asks Congress to repeal more than $40 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry. It also directs millions of dollars to renewable energy, such as wind, though it doesn't do much to expand offshore drilling. The state's Republicans don't like that. Virginia Congressman Rob Wittman says wind energy, especially off Virginia's coast, is important to the U.S.

"But we also need to be, I think, thoughtful and forward thinking about how we develop our other fossil fuel sources, because we are going to need those as a bridge for whatever energy future we see," says Wittman. "That has to include the Outer Continental Shelf and I am adamant to say that has to happen."

Northern Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says the president's energy proposal focuses on the nation's long-term needs by redirecting oil subsidies to renewable energy sources, which could create thousands of jobs in the state.

"The oil, especially the oil industry, doesn't need any more tax breaks," says Connolly. "They are having record profits year in and year out, and God bless them that they are successful, but we don't need to give them a tax cut to bless their success any longer."

The president is asking for a $15 million cut to the D.C. Metro system, which is used by tens of thousands of residents of northern Virginia, but overall, he wants Congress to make billions of dollars in targeted transportation investments in places such as Virginia.

Responses largely along party lines

Wittman says the president's call for all these new investments is blind to the nation's $15 trillion debt: "I think what we see here is that he made an earlier commitment to say that he was going to cut the deficit in half and obviously it's not occurring here, so I would say that it's not adhering to his earlier words and I think everyone took him at his word with that."

Democrats see it differently. They say says Republicans' refusal to raise taxes on the wealthy makes it impossible to negotiate with them on cutting the debt. Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner says now it's Congress' turn to come up with a debt reduction plan.

"The president's budget is a good first step," saus Warner. "I think we need to do more." 

The release of the president's budget marks the start of an annual battle on Capitol Hill. Now lawmakers will chop and tweak it before crafting a budget that marks their priorities.

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