Bell Weighs in on State, National Political Issues

Former Republican State Senator Brandon Bell (1992-1996 21st District, 2003-2007 22nd District) says he doesn’t intend to run again for that post but he sure stays on top of state and national political issues these days. Bell, who also ran unsuccessfully against Ralph Smith in the newly configured 19th Senate district two years ago, maintains a lively back and forth with fellow conservatives and those on the left via his Facebook page.

Former State Senator Brandon Bell was known for going his own way.
Former State Senator Brandon Bell was known for going his own way.

The financial advisor, also a former appointed member of the state’s Board of Education, has weighed in on the fiscal cliff, the debt limit and goings-on in Richmond with the General Assembly in session. (A complete, two-part interview on these topics with Bell can be heard over the next three Sunday mornings at 11:30 on “Roanoke this week with Gene Marrano” on Fox Radio 910am.)

Bell opined on the tax rate deal recently passed in Congress, saying on his Facebook page that spending cuts must also be part of any equation to balance the budget. “You have to deal with the revenue side – in might be painful to some – but you have to deal with the spending side [also]. We’re stilling looking at trillion dollar deficits in the future.”

Unrealistic commitments that cannot be funded adequately – like rising costs for Medicare and Social Security as baby boomers age – are a root cause of the problem he adds. “Once a commitment is made its almost impossible to unmake,” noted Bell, who doesn’t think President Barack Obama came out of the recent election with any mandate to speak of, noting that the populace is still split almost evenly down the middle.

Now he wants to see Obama lead the way, helping to solve fiscal problems long term, “leaving a positive legacy. Frankly I don’t see the leadership [now].” The GOP Speaker of the House, John Boehner, is not without fault; Bell said the Ohio congressman doesn’t display the leadership skills needed either. Senate leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) strikes Bell as more of a “back bencher,” as well, instead of the larger than life presence that might be necessary to get things done.

There’s “nothing constructive on the table,” when it comes to deficit reduction said Bell. Cuts to the military budget must be one of those items on the table in his opinion, with the U.S. spending more on military than the next 16 industrialized countries combined. “We can’t police the world …do we need 40,000 troops in Okinawa?”

The revenue (taxes) side versus the level in spending in Washington is “out of whack,” said Bell, who pushed through a contentious no smoking in restaurants bill during his second term as a senator. A consumption or value tax may help spread out the burden, bringing those who pay little or no income taxes now into the fold.

Bell was in office when the Virginia Tech massacre happened in 2007; he is still “passionate” about citizens being able to own guns, but doesn’t think having assault weapons (or high quantity magazine clips) with a “mass killing capability,” is what the Second Amendment aimed to protect.

Legislation to make sure more people get the help needed for mental health issues is also an imperative in Bell’s view – making sure they can’t buy deadly weapons. He doesn’t buy the notion that limiting access to assault weapons means people will lose their hunting rifles or handguns purchased for security purposes.

On the state side, Bell would rather see any push to lift the uranium mining ban put off for further study, citing uncertainty on safety concerns. “Its one of those issues that would be well served not to move very quickly [on]. You just don’t put things like that back in the bottle.” He also isn’t sure Governor Bob McDonnell’s idea to eliminate the gas tax, replacing it with an increased sales tax, will help fund transportation needs adequately, although, “structurally it would be better.”

Bell would rather see more services be subject to a higher sales tax, with fewer loopholes than there are now. He expects McDonnell and legislators to be in for a big fight if the sales tax increase idea gets pushed along: “people are going to fight you no matter what you’re going to do. [But] I like the fact that he put something out there.”

Bell is okay with the state being hesitant to set up health care exchanges as part of the Obamacare changes, saying a less centralized approach that “allows states to step up,” would have been a better option. The state is “under the gun” to come up with a plan however, since the health care law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. He sees it all leading to a single payer system somewhere down the road, calling that approach “the long term vision,” of those behind the law.

The era of social media “puts a lot of pressure,” on politicians these days, often forcing them to offer snap decisions and sound bite-ready comments. “It doesn’t allow them to sit back and think,” said Bell. Interest groups on the left and the Tea Party on the right also put more heat on Congress and the General Assembly. That ability to think issues through long term is precisely what Brandon Bell is looking for in Washington and Richmond these days. But no – he has no intention of seeking his own elected seat at the table again.

By Gene Marrano

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