Speaking Monday at the University of Virginia, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, asked the audience if they remembered the scene in the 1974 Mel Brooks spoof “Blazing Saddles,” in which the town’s new, black sheriff escapes a mob of unruly townspeople by taking himself hostage.
“That’s kind of what Congress does with sequestration,” he said.
The sequestration cuts are a series of spending cuts designed to be so blatantly damaging that no rational person would allow them to happen, Warner said.
He said repeated high-stakes standoffs are “a stupid way to run a government” and solving the nation’s debt crisis would require honest work from all parts of the political spectrum.
“Both sides have got blame on this,” he said, pointing to the roughly $16.5 trillion national debt.
He described a government with divergent revenues and expenses, and a series of untouchable golden cows, each guarded by a separate special interest.
“Everybody’s for fixing this problem, just as long as you don’t touch mine,” he said.
Tax cuts, wars run “on the credit card” and entitlements all play a role, Warner said.
If interest rates were any higher, the country’s bind would be worse, he said.
Warner appeared at UVa as part of Up to Us, a nationwide campaign, in which teams on college campuses are working to educate and engage college students about the nation’s burgeoning debt.
The winning team is slated to receive $10,000 and be honored at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University by former President Bill Clinton.
In her introduction of Warner, University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan said the federal budget woes are an issue of importance to the university community.
Asked about higher education later in his talk, Warner said that elite universities, such as UVa are better able to withstand the challenges facing higher education today than schools such as Radford University or James Madison University. He said he expects higher education in the future to adhere less-strictly to the four-years-on-campus model.
Among those who showed up to ask Warner questions was Albemarle County supervisor Ann H. Mallek, who urged him to hurry to fix the nation’s budget.
Mallek tied federal uncertainty to reluctance on the part of Albemarle County to commit to specific projects.
“Because we are uncertain about what federal funding chains will deliver, it makes us reluctant to invest when we will be faced with hard and fast repayment schedules on bonds and loans,” she said later Monday.