by H. Brevy Cannon
America's biggest challenges include
inequality, political polarization and gridlock, a large and
growing national debt that threatens to crowd out key investments
in the future, and a global competition for talent and capital that
threatens America's longstanding advantage in those areas, U.S.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Tuesday at a graduate student town
hall meeting at the University of Virginia.
The solutions, he said, include
balancing the budget, electing leaders with more entrepreneurial
experience and willingness to take risks, reversing the trend
toward political polarization with independent redistricting of
congressional districts, and immigration reform that will no longer
push the best and brightest immigrants, educated at American
universities, to resettle in other nations like Canada or the U.K.
that have "rational immigration policy for the 21st century."
Warner "comes from a remarkable
business career as one of the co-founders of Nextel," University of Virginia Darden School of Business Dean Robert F. Bruner said in introducing Warner to a
standing-room-only crowd of more than 75 gathered in a Darden
classroom. "And through his understanding of business, he brings a
deeper, more nuanced understanding to public service and to public
First elected to the Senate in 2008,
Warner is up for re-election this fall, facing a challenge from
three declared Republican candidates, including Ed Gillespie, the
former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Warner was
governor of Virginia from 2002 to 2006.
Warner noted that he ran for
governor based in large part "on the premise that, in an
information age, you shouldn't have to leave your hometown to find
a good job."
While the power of the information
age is global, "We have candidly not done a very good job of
re-empowering rural communities around America," he said.
Broadband access is part of the
solution, and there are wide swaths of Virginia and America that
still don't have broadband access, Warner said, adding that
broadband access "is not a guarantee of economic success, but it's
He said he supports the concept of
"net neutrality," the premise that Internet providers cannot favor
one type of Web traffic over another, such as allowing a faster
connection for video streaming from Hulu versus Netflix - a premise
that was rejected by a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last
On the other hand, Warner noted that
as a co-founder of Nextel, he has "some sympathy as well for the
network provider." When, for instance, 25 percent of all bandwidth
is devoted to Netflix's streaming videos, he said, there must be a
compensation model that ensures network providers can pay for the
ongoing building and improvement of network infrastructure.
Crowdfunding may be another key boon
to rural America, Warner said. Although the Securities and Exchange
Commission is still finalizing regulations, the 2012 Jumpstart Our
Business Startups Act — or JOBS Act — which Warner supported, will
enable anyone to invest online in private companies in small
increments, perhaps less than $5,000. "I'm a big advocate of
crowdfunding," he said. While it's too early to tell how
transformative Internet-based crowdfunding will ultimately be, it
"could be a very powerful tool for empowering small communities,"
While crowdfunding will inevitably
result in some people being ripped off, Warner said, Internet-based
crowdfunding must harness the online community's ability to police
itself against fraudulent activity, just as eBay has enabled
billions of dollars of transactions with very little government
Regulations can never be 100 percent
perfect and "my fear is it will take so long to write the
regulations, other countries will leap ahead of us," he said.
The national debt is "the defining
issue of our time," Warner said. "We do an enormous disservice to
all of you if we leave you with $17 trillion of debt that goes up
$4 billion per night, and with a country that's not able to invest
in education, infrastructure and research to stay competitive."
Congress has done "not near enough"
on the issue, as it still has not recognized "that we must change
our tax structure, we must change a little bit of our entitlement
structure, so that in a global world we can stay competitive," he
During his visit to Grounds, Warner
also spoke with a cross-disciplinary seminar class on "The National
Debt," led by Darden Professor Mary Margaret Frank, the academic
director of Darden's Institute for Business in Society, which organized the graduate
student town hall in partnership with the Darden Business & Public Policy Club.
Beyond the fiscal issues wrapped up
in the national debt, there are "two overriding issues we have to
grapple with," Warner said. Today's global economy is "all about
the competition for talent and capital," he said. America used to
have a substantial lead on both fronts, but now faces global
competition from several billion people in a newly connected
"Part of that talent battle is
immigration reform, creating livable communities" and needing an
education system that recognizes that all Americans will need some
sort of skill that goes beyond traditional K-12 education, even if
not all Americans need a college education, he said.
"On the capital side, we still have
more of an advantage," he said. America still has "far and away the
most effective capital markets, the most robust early-stage venture
"Over the last two years, I would
argue that our governmental gridlock and lurching from budget
crisis to budget crisis has actually been a net negative on
economic growth in an almost unprecedented way," Warner said. "When
you look back historically, American public policy actions have
either been neutral or net positive for the most part."
Last week's congressional passage of
a budget covering the next two years "gets us to net neutral" which
may result in GDP growth next year of 3 percent or 4 percent, he
"Think what we could do if
governmental policy actions could be consensus-building enough to
actually be net positive toward economic growth," Warner said.
While government leaders have thus
far failed to tackle these challenges, Warner said, "the
incremental amount of changes we need to make are so small, it's
almost un-American," for a nation that has, in the past, tackled
"big things" like fascism, communism, the Civil Rights Movement and
putting a man on the moon, he said.
"There needs to be a sense that
we're all in this together."
About the Darden School of
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