By Joe Beck
WINCHESTER -- U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Vienna, sounded like anything but a man about to retire from Congress on Thursday in a luncheon speech to the Rotary Club.
Instead of reflecting on his 32-year career in Congress, Wolf gave a recitation of causes and legislation that remain as dear to him as ever. There was no hint of the national media attention given to the brewing campaign to succeed him or to the Republican and Democratic candidates lining up for the race in the competitive 10th District.
Wolf opened his speech with remarks about his deep worries about the national debt and the need for a bipartisan agreement to bring it under control. He also spoke at length about his continuing concerns with religious freedom and human rights in the Middle East, specifically the persecution of Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims.
"It has been an honor and privilege to represent this area," Wolf said in the only allusion to his impending retirement. "I love this area."
Wolf cited the $17 trillion debt and more than $4 billion a week in interest paid on it as urgent threats to the national economy.
"It is time we deal with this issue, and frankly, it will have to be dealt with in a bipartisan fashion," Wolf said.
Wolf added that he was "very, very worried" about the debt in comments delivered later during a question and answer session. "We cannot kick the can down the road anymore."
Wolf, who has long championed the rights of non-Muslims in the predominantly Muslim Middle East, said he is dismayed by steep population declines among Jews and Christians in countries such as Egypt and Iraq. The population of Jews in Egypt has fallen from 80,000 to a current total of 20, he said.
"We have seen Jewish people pushed out," Wolf said. "We're seeing the same thing happen with regard to Coptic Christians and others."
Wolf said he was trying to impress on Congress the importance of human rights and religious freedom overseas.
"When America fails to speak out, the world becomes a different place," he said.
In response to a question about Benghazi and the absence of much disciplinary action taken in the aftermath of the deaths of four Americans in an attack on a diplomatic outpost in Libya, Wolf said he has been trying to form a select bipartisan committee to investigate the matter. But Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has rebuffed his efforts so far.
"I hope we can convince the speaker to go along," Wolf said, adding, "We owe this to the men and women who serve and to the people who lost their lives."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org