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Senator Tim Kaine making his mark during first year in Washington

Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:22:09 PM EST   Updated On: Nov 08 2013 01:54:41 AM EST

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine arrived in Washington at a challenging time.


U.S. Senator Tim Kaine arrived in Washington at a challenging time.
During his first ten months in office, he's played an influential role on major issues, including the budget, immigration reform and U.S. policy in the Middle East.

And while he is frustrated by political gridlock, he also says there is reason for optimism.
When Kaine joined 28 other Democrats and Republicans on the budget conference committee last week, he argued they aren't as far apart as many might think.

"I think much is being made that the budgets are so different you can't make them work," Kaine said in an interview. "I think in reality the differences in the two budgets are in real terms about one and a half percent of the federal budget.  With the upside we would get by doing a deal, you cannot tell me that members of Congress cannot find a way to close a one and a half percent gap."

And that is an attitude Kaine has applied to his first months in office, by introducing legislation with Republican co-sponsors and getting to know fellow freshmen from both parties.  That outreach includes a Wednesday morning prayer group, daily workouts in the gym, and get togethers he and a Republican colleague have helped organize.

"It's not all about 'listen to me.'  I have to be willing to listen to others," Kaine told us. "And you know the nice thing about being a Senator from Virginia or Maryland, I don't have to spend as much time on a plane getting back and forth to home every weekend, so I can spend a little more time with people getting to know them a little bit better. And at the end of the day, that's what we need to do."

There have been disappointments.  At the top of the list is the government shutdown, and the Senate's failure to pass legislation expanding background checks on gun purchases.

He also says there are points of pride, including his support for the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate with 70 votes.

Fortunate as a freshman to receive assignments on the Budget, Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, Kaine has had unusual influence on major issues, including the country's financial problems, military affairs important to Virginia and the nation's response to developments in Syria, Egypt and other nations in the Middle East.

"And so every day brings an opportunity, every day has its frustration," Kaine said, "but that's also like the rest of life. You know you don't just get the good stuff, you have to grapple with the challenges too."

Kaine says he believes his efforts to reach across the aisle are beginning to bear fruit, especially on the first pieces of legislation he has introduced.

And as he continues his service in the Senate, he hopes his experience as a mayor and a governor will be valuable, helping to find a fix for some of the nation's most challenging problems.