FAIRFAX,Va. – The looming “fiscal cliff” and defense jobs were the decisive issues in a debate Thursday between former governors Tim Kaine,D,and George Allen,R,who are in a tight race for an open Senate seat in Virginia.
The candidates sparred over defense cuts that would kick in automatically at the end of the year if Congress fails to reach a budget agreement.
Allen said the so-called sequestration cuts would endanger thousands of jobs in Virginia and put servicemen’s lives at risk.
“This is exactly why it is so dangerous and so wrong to be playing these political games with our armed services,” Allen said.
Kaine countered,“Our ideas are not the problem,it’s the willingness to work together.”
The candidates debated before the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce in Fairfax County,Va.,a Washington suburb and the state’s most populous jurisdiction,with 1.1 million of the state’s 8 million residents. It is also one of the wealthiest counties in the country. The debate was broadcast live on local TV.
The automatic cuts would put thousands of Virginia-based defense jobs at risk if Congress fails to arrive at a compromise deal by year’s end.
Kaine said he would consider the idea that everyone should pay some income tax,a change of position on his part,while Allen balked at raising taxes on anyone in this economy.
“I want to see people keep more of what they earn,” Allen said.
He said that repealing the Affordable Care Act and guarding against wasteful government spending are more successful ways to balance the budget.
Moderator David Gregory,host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” noted that a million Virginians pay no income tax.
The discussion of the income tax referred to the recent disclosure of comments made by presidential candidate Mitt Romney disparaging the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes.
Asked if he would disavow those comments,Allen demurred.
“I have my own point of view,” Allen said,without providing any specifics,other than “lower taxes create more jobs.”
Kaine rebutted with a plan to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for those earning more than $500,000 annually and repealing tax cuts for the top five U.S. oil companies.
A Washington Post poll released Thursday showed Kaine ahead of Allen,by 51-43 among likely voters,for the first time – the candidates have been tied in most previous polls.
Kaine gained traction midway through the debate after Gregory asked Allen to explain Kaine’s 14 percent poll lead among likely women voters,according to the Post’s poll.
“I think we’re going to do very well with men and women,” Allen said,noting that women care about jobs and the economy’s impact on their families.
Kaine fired back with an accusation that Allen’s platform doesn’t tie women’s social issues to financial reality. He referred to a contentious debate in the Virginia legislature over whether women wanting abortions should be required to have invasive ultrasound exams.
“It’s demeaning to suggest that issues about women are just social issues and economic issues,” Kaine said. “If you force women to have an ultrasound procedure against their will,and pay for it,that’s an economic issue. If you deny women opportunities because of personhood legislation to make constitutional choices,including whether to purchase contraception – that’s an economic issue.”
“Women are more than half of this economy,” Kaine said.
On the issue of political brinksmanship,Kaine drew on a past Allen comment when he promised to push legislators’ “soft teeth down their whiny throats” at a 1994 Republican state convention.
After the debate,the candidates filed into the media room to rebut the comments that they didn’t have time to acknowledge at the podium.
Allen’s first priority was to fire back at Kaine’s proposal to have all Virginians pay income tax. “I don’t think everyone in this country ought to be paying federal income taxes,” Allen said. “Families are struggling right now.”
Allen said the biggest challenge to Virginia is related to the fiscal cliff,“these devastating cuts to Virginia technology and defense jobs … that’s an example of Washington not making decisions.”
Kaine criticized Allen and the Republican Party for using debt ceiling votes as a way to gain political leverage.
“It was precisely that game of chicken attitude that led to a bond downgrade,” Kaine said. “Instead of doing the fiscally responsible thing,they decided to play games with the economy.”
This story has been revised to clarify Kaine’s stand on tax policy. He said he would consider requiring that all Americans pay some income tax. He did not say he supports the idea. He also reiterated his stand that the Bush-era tax cuts should expire for those making more than $500,000 annually,not for those making $250,000.
Reach reporter Jory Heckman [email protected] or 202-326-9868 SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.