‘Passionate pragmatist’ Spanberger sees bipartisan progress in D.C.

CHESTERFIELD OBSERVER, JIM MCCONNELL 

In her first public speaking engagement in Chesterfield since taking office in January, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, addressed the Chesterfield Chamber’s Women’s Business Council last week at Stonehenge Country Club.

In her first public speaking engagement in Chesterfield since taking office in January, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, addressed the Chesterfield Chamber’s Women’s Business Council last week at Stonehenge Country Club. Ash Daniel

At her first Chesterfield speaking engagement since taking office in January, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger said that as a former federal employee, she found it sadly ironic that she and other newly elected members of Congress were sworn into office in the middle of a 35-day government shutdown.

Spanberger got right to work. On her first day in office, she voted to reopen the government. A few weeks later, she sponsored a bill that would defund the legislative branch if the federal government is shut down – meaning, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and their respective staffs would not be paid.

She also began attending late-night meetings in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, as lawmakers from both parties gathered to talk through their differences and seek resolution of the impasse over funding for President Trump’s border wall.

“Sitting in that room with a bunch of people who shared the same goal, which was to get the government up and running, that was a really inspiring moment. I felt like, ‘This is exactly what Congress should be doing all the time,’ ” Spanberger recalled during her address to the Chesterfield Chamber’s Women’s Business Council last Thursday at Stonehenge Country Club.

In front of an audience of about 75 people, most of whom were local businesswomen, Spanberger delivered prepared remarks for about 20 minutes – focusing on issues relevant to business owners, such as the rising cost of employee health care, workforce training and broadband internet access – then answered audience questions for another 30.

Spanberger said she sees one of Congress’ roles as creating conditions in which businesses can thrive and grow by passing thoughtful laws and limiting unreasonable regulations.

“Positive legislation that makes it easier to access funding and builds a culture that supports [entrepreneurship] is critical in Chesterfield, where 92% of business is small business,” added Danielle Fitz-Hugh, president of the Chesterfield Chamber, who invited Spanberger to speak at the luncheon.

Western Chesterfield voters played a pivotal role in Spanberger’s defeat of two-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Brat last November, helping the former CIA agent become the first Democrat in more than 50 years to win the sprawling 7th House District.

During her first 100 days in office, Spanberger said she has governed as a “passionate pragmatist,” noting she is part of a House coalition called the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is also known as the “Noah’s Ark Group” because it includes an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Its members meet once a week to discuss issues facing their diverse constituencies and try to find areas of common ground.

“When you turn on the 24-hour cable news cycle or monitor the sometimes-frightening world of Twitter, you may wonder, ‘What the heck is happening in Washington?’ Sometimes you are justified in thinking that bipartisanship and progress on legislation, or even just old-fashioned civility, might be impossible. But in fact, it’s happening,” Spanberger said.

As she spoke about often during the campaign, Spanberger is a supporter of Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine’s Medicare X proposal, which would give people the option to buy into a Medicare-style public health insurance plan without eliminating private insurance altogether.

Kaine’s plan doesn’t go as far as the “Medicare for All” program favored by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and other Democratic Party presidential candidates, but Spanberger thinks it would be “a significant benefit” to small business owners by providing “a low-cost alternative” for their employees.

“Generally speaking, the more people who have health insurance and access to preventive health care, that will drive down cost,” she said.

In the meantime, Spanberger introduced a bill last month regarding transparency of prescription drug prices that had a Republican co-sponsor and passed unanimously in the Ways and Means Committee – the first step to having it heard on the House floor.

“The bottom line is, if I want to go 10 steps ahead, but I can get three, I’m still on the right trajectory,” she added. “You eek forward and find compromise. That’s how you make progress.”

Spanberger already has hosted town hall meetings in several of the 10 localities that make up the 7th District. She’s expected to be back in Chesterfield next month to meet with her constituents at a time and place to be determined. 

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Editor’s note: An earlier print and online version of this article misstated the time at which a bill was introduced to defund the legislative branch in event of a government shutdown. We regret the error.

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