Control of the U.S. Senate may hinge on a handful of close races. One of these closely watched contests is the race in Virginia to replace Democrat Jim Webb, who is not running for re-election.
Former governors Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine are well known in the state. Allen is trying to win back the seat he held before losing to Webb in 2006.
Virginians witnessed a sharp contrast between Allen and Kaine on issues and temperament in their most recent debate, in Hot Springs, Va. The two candidates clashed on how best to address the deficit and national debt.
Neither Allen nor Kaine was in the U.S. Senate when last August, a compromise was hammered out for addressing increases in the debt ceiling. However, the way each candidate said he would have voted reveals a major difference in approach to the deficit and debt issue.
Disagreement on Deficit Cut Deal
Deep and painful slashes in spending are on the horizon, unless Congress can reach an agreement. The looming sequestration requires automatic across-the-board spending cuts to reduce defense spending by over $500 billion over the next 10 years. Adding the defense cuts to reductions in nondefense programs will result in savings of $1 trillion, a start in deficit reduction.
Unless Congress acts, the process will begin January 2013.
Testifying Aug. 1, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter before the House Armed Services Committee, said, “[The sequester] was designed to be an inflexible and mindless policy. It was never designed to be implemented. Instead, it was enacted as a prod to Congress to devise a comprehensive package to reduce the federal deficit.”
Carter said that the sequestration “introduces senseless chaos into the management of more than 2,500 defense investment programs, waste into defense spending, … and causes lasting disruptions even if it only extends for one year.”
The consensus in Washington agrees with Carter’s stated view, as well as that of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that actually going through the sequestration would be devastating.
But was the legislation to prod Congress to act on a good idea? Kaine says he would have voted for it and Allen says he would not.
Allen said that if the sequestration is carried out, Virginia would suffer severe job losses and it would be devastating to the Virginia economy. He put the number of jobs lost at 200,000.
Kaine said that Virginia Republican elected officials, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Congressman Eric Cantor, supported the deal, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and that it will bring national spending down $1 trillion. Congress can still act to head off the automatic defense cuts. He said that Congress had to do something about the deficit, and if this deal were not agreed to, it would have been the first time that the nation defaulted on paying the national debt.
Kaine called for a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction that includes in addition to cuts, more revenue. He favors retiring the Bush tax cuts at the end of the year for persons earning over $500,000, which would bring in $600 billion in the next 10 years. He disagrees with President Obama who would draw the threshold at $250,000.
Allen countered, “National defense should never be used as a bargaining tool to raise taxes.”
Allen said, Aug. 9, on his campaign website, “Having half of the federal cuts come from the country’s top responsibility of national defense is wrong.”
Allen was firm on opposing new revenue through higher tax rates for the wealthy. “Raising taxes will only create more job losses,” he said.
Allen was asked, “Would you agree to a tax increase if you were assured it would be accompanied by spending cuts worth 10 times the amount of the tax increase?” The same question was asked at the Republican primary presidential debates, where all the candidates famously answered, “No.” Allen also said he wouldn’t take the deal.
Kaine said that solving the deficit problem would require $2 or $3 for every dollar of new revenue. He said that since most of these cuts will hurt the lower and middle classes, it’s only fair that the wealthier pay more in revenue.
One difference that could influence Virginia voters is a preference toward each candidate’s brand of political style.
Kaine criticized Allen for his billboards that say that Tim Kaine is “Obama’s Senator, not Virginia’s.” Kaine says that’s “as if I’m not a real Virginian, because I support the president of the United States. … That’s yesterday’s politics.”
Kaine rebuked Allen for being an “obstructionist” to the other party and whoever is the president. He said that Allen advised Republican leaders last summer “to use the debt ceiling vote to try to get more [entitlement] cuts.”
Allen criticized Kaine for working at “the most partisan job in America,” as Democratic National Committee chairman during his last year as governor when the state was responding to the national recession. “Do you regret putting the partisan agenda ahead of your responsibilities to the people of Virginia as governor,” Allen asked his opponent.
Kaine often remarks that politics have fallen too low, too divisive, petty, and personal. He wants to “bring people together and lift people up.” He says enlightened politics refuses to say compromise is a bad word.Allen is optimistic too. “I believe the way to get our economy moving again and create jobs is to reinvigorate the entrepreneur spirit of our country. We need to be providing for Americans a competitive advantage for investment and jobs. … [With reforms] America is open for business again!”
At least three more debates are scheduled on Sept. 20, Oct. 8, and Oct. 18. The Sept. 20 debate will be in McLean, Va., moderated by Dick Gregory, and shown live in the Washington, D.C., area, according to Fredericksburg.com.
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