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Wittman Answers Questions at Public Forum, Constituents Hold Mock Town Hall

Republican congressman says he favors smaller-scale meetings over massive town halls

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., leaves a meeting of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors in Stafford, Va., on April 18, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., leaves a meeting of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors in Stafford, Va., on April 18, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

STAFFORD, Va. — Rep. Rob Wittman provided an update on congressional affairs to the local governing body here Tuesday evening. It was his fifth constituent meeting of the day.

Meanwhile, just over 30 miles northwest in Nokesville, Virginia, citizens held a mock town hall to discuss the congressman’s voting record.

Wittman, who represents Virginia’s 1st District, answered questions from the Stafford County Board of Supervisors on a range of issues, including the federal budget, health care and taxes. The tone was congenial. One board member thanked Wittman for being “accessible” and “visible” at local events.

Similar topics arose during the citizen-hosted town hall, which organizers streamed live on Facebook. The Facebook page, VA 1st District Town Hall Meeting, links to a petition on Action Network, a self-described “progressive online organizing platform,” calling for Wittman to hold a town hall, noting that he has not had one since one week before election day.

The mood appeared more adversarial in Nokesville. The organizers placed a cardboard cutout of Wittman at the podium and had panelists who had researched his voting record and public comments speak on his behalf. Most of the questions and comments from constituents reflected left-leaning views.

In an interview before the board of supervisors meeting, the fifth-term congressman said he could not accept the invitation to the citizens’ town hall because he already had scheduled events. He said he offered to schedule a separate time to meet with the constituents who had requested the town hall.

In addition to the board meeting Tuesday, Wittman attended a local Chamber of Commerce breakfast, met with an area agency on aging and spoke to a few hundred employees at GEICO’s Fredericksburg office. He said he tends to favor smaller-scale meetings over massive town hall events.

“What we want to do is make sure we’re most effectively catching up with folks and understanding where their concerns are and having significant dialogue on things,” Wittman said.

Wittman said he also holds telephone town halls where he answers questions and his office follows up with people who called in but didn’t get a chance to submit a query.  He last held a telephone town hall two weeks ago and said he hoped to hold another before the end of the current week.

The board of supervisors meeting drew a small crowd of roughly a dozen people. While the board members asked Wittman questions, the audience was not afforded the same opportunity.

When Wittman left, only one attendee stepped out to speak with him. The majority of the attendees seemed more interested in the local items on the board’s agenda than speaking to the congressman about happenings in Washington.

UNITED STATES - APRIL 18: Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., greets members of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors in Stafford, Va., before a meeting on April 18, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES — APRIL 18: Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., greets members of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors in Stafford, Va., before a meeting on April 18, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Wittman told the board of supervisors the “most pressing” issue facing Congress is the need to wrap up the fiscal 2017 budget. He said he’s hopeful lawmakers will not pass another continuing resolution. Wittman opposed the one Congress passed in December and said he is willing to do so again.

Instead, the congressman suggested the Senate, which returns to Washington next week a day earlier than the House, could attach the fiscal 2o17 appropriations bills that have not been signed into law to the defense appropriations measure the House passed earlier this year and then send it to the House for final passage before the April 28 deadline. 

Virginia’s 1st District is home to many federal workers, defense contractors and other businesses that provide support to the federal government.

Board member Wendy Mauerer asked Wittman if Congress will get back to regular order and pass budgets on time now that Republicans control the House, Senate and the White House. She said the uncertainty has a negative impact on local businesses.

“I had been hollering and screaming at the loudest pitch that I can to emphasize how important that is,” Wittman said. 

He said he has told Speaker Paul D. Ryan that Congress, which is getting a late start to its budget process this year, should stay in session through the August recess to ensure they finish passing the fiscal 2018 appropriations bills before the current fiscal year ends September 30.

“You’ll find that I’ll continue to be in the speaker’s ear asking us to stay,” Wittman said.

Most of the board members’ questions were geared to local impacts of federal decisions, with some getting into narrow topics like a Small Business Administration program for minority- and veteran-owned businesses, the need for a Veterans Affairs hospital in Stafford County, and interest in overhauling federal housing voucher programs, so local governments can get better access to them. 

The board members also asked for broader updates on Republicans’ health care and tax overhaul efforts and Wittman’s views on those topics. 

Responding to a question about health care timing, Wittman said, “The good thing [is] the speaker said he is not going to be driven by time.”

Wittman came out in opposition to the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s current plan, before leadership canceled a vote on the measure. He remains opposed to the bill in its current form, he said, despite support for an amendment that was added to the bill before the House left for the Easter recess.

“We don’t have a bill that we all believe in,” Wittman told the board of supervisors. He said the measure needs to reduce premiums in the “near term,” which he defined as the year following enactment. 

“If we don’t have that, I don’t think we ought to be pressed by time,” he said.

A member of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Wittman has not garnered a lot of attention for his opposition to the health care bill because he’s not in the far-right House Freedom Caucus or the moderate Tuesday Group, both of which had many members opposed to the measure.

On taxes, Wittman said an overhaul must lower tax rates for businesses and individuals. He said the GOP tax plan would require U.S.-based companies to pay taxes on money they have been holding offshore.

“It would be great to take that money and devote it toward infrastructure,” Wittman said. “It would certainly be a big help to this region.” 

Wittman won re-election in 2016 by 23 points. His seat is not currently expected to be competitive in 2018.

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