MCLEAN — The potential $500 billion in defense cuts looming in Washington took center stage Thursday at the Capital One Conference Center during the first of three debates between U.S. Senate candidates Tim Kaine and George Allen.
The cuts — $1 trillion in total under the banner of "sequestration" — could cost the Old Dominion thousands of jobs, particularly in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Once meant as a stopgap measure, the continuing partisan divide in Washington has transformed them into a real threat.
Kaine, a Democrat and former governor, presented his plan to solve the problem, which largely revolves around ending Bush-era tax cuts to individuals making more than $500,000 annually and cutting subsidies to the five largest oil companies.
"Each of those elements represents a compromise," Kaine later told reporters, reiterating the theme of bipartisanship that peppered nearly all of his debate comments.
Allen, the Republican candidate and also a former governor, criticized Kaine and his campaign for not doing an independent analysis of the proposal to see what its impact on jobs would be — the implication being that the Kaine plan would cost jobs. Allen said his plan to reduce taxes on individuals and businesses would create more than 500,000 jobs a year.
Allen talked about the need to avoid the potentially devastating defense cuts, and said, "The men and women in our armed forces should never be used as political bargaining chips."
"That's the kind of name-calling that we've seen too much of in Washington," Kaine retorted. He criticized Allen for voting to raise the debt ceiling four times, for paying for two wars "on a credit card," and, on sequestration, said Allen is "on more sides on this than a Rubik's Cube."
Without going into specifics, Allen said the Senate should act on a measure the House passed in May to deal with sequestration. That measure, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan — now the Republican nominee for vice president — would cut funding needed to implement President Barack Obama's signature health care reform and reduce or eliminate waste in the federal food-stamp program, according to an ABC News report at the time. Only 16 Republicans opposed the measure, including Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia.
"Sequestration deserves more than just platitudes," Democratic Party of Virginia Chairman Brian Moran said later. "I'm sure George Allen wants the problem to go away, but this problem demands specifics and leadership. And George Allen failed to provide that."
NBC's David Gregory, who moderated the debate co-sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, pressed the candidates on several issues, including:
- Whether Kaine would be open to a proposal that would require everyone to pay federal income tax. He would.
- Whether Allen agreed with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney that 47 percent of Americans feel they are "victims." He said no, eventually, and added, "My view is the best social program of all is a job."
- Whether Kaine supported gay marriage as fully as Obama. Kaine said he believed everyone deserved equal rights under the law, but would leave it to state legislatures whether the term "civil union," "marriage" or something else was used.
- What Allen would say to those who were troubled by a remark in 2006 that many took to be an ethnic slur. Allen said losing his 2006 Senate re-election bid was "humbling" and that it was wrong for him to bring the individual to whom the remark was directed into the debate.
Allen and Kaine agree, broadly, that tax reform is needed. Kaine said individuals should be allowed to aggregate a certain amount of deductions and that such a move would prevent Congress from arguing over eliminating specific deductions like charitable donations. Allen made it a point to say individuals should have the ability to choose a flat tax.
On health care reform, Allen said he did agree with parts of the president's plan, including allowing children to be covered under their parents' plan until age 26. Kaine said after more than 30 failed attempts to repeal the law — and a Supreme Court decision — that it's time to look forward.
"We heard two things today," said Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity, a Republican who represents the Springfield District. "I think we heard Tim Kaine said, 'I am nonpartisan,' and we heard George Allen say, 'Jobs are the best welfare program there is.' "
He added: "Kaine saying he is nonpartisan is ridiculous, since he used to work for the (Democratic National Committee) — one of the most partisan jobs out there."
Lorton Patch Editor James Cullum contributed to this report.