The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Senate race has national tone in Virginia
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
When Friday’s jobs report came out, the response from Virginia’s two Senate candidates was predictable.
Republican George Allen blamed “Tim Kaine’s Washington allies,” who he said “have hindered and obstructed much-needed investment, innovation and job growth with their excessive regulating and taxing policies.”
Democrat Kaine echoed the themes national Democrats pressed in their just-ended convention—that they know the country has “a long way to go” to recover from the recession but that things are slowly getting better.
Both statements were typical of the two campaigns’ themes, and indicate what voters can expect to hear from these two former governors in the final two months of the campaign.
Allen’s campaign—like presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s—has been built around criticism of Democratic policies in Washington, something to which he ties Kaine at every opportunity, and how he would do things differently.
His jobs statement put it in a nutshell: “The federal health care tax law, the assault on coal, the ban of Virginia offshore energy exploration and $500 billion defense cuts under a deal that risks over 200,000 Virginia jobs demonstrate the Washington Democrats’ continued failure of placing their partisan agenda ahead of Virginia families,” Allen said.
Kaine’s campaign message—again, like President Barack Obama’s—is that Republican policies helped create the poor economy and that Democrats are slowly righting the ship.
“We know that hard work and tough decisions remain ahead of us,” Kaine said in his jobs statement. “I remain unsatisfied with the pace of economic growth, but I reject partisan political calls to return to the very same policies of lax regulations, reckless spending, and tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and corporations who don’t need them which helped create this mess in the first place.”
NATIONAL ISSUES ON THE TABLE
In many ways, the issues in this Senate race are similar to those in the presidential race—economic policies, environmental policies, debt and deficit strategies, how to deal with the increasing cost of safety-net programs.
At a debate at the Homestead in August, Allen raised the issue of “sequestration,” the bipartisan package of dire federal budget cuts—including billions of dollars from defense—that Congress approved last year and never thought would take effect.
Now the cuts would actually start happening in January, and both sides are pointing fingers and searching for a way to avert them.
Allen says he never would have approved such harmful cuts in the first place, and that it’s “simplistic to simply do across-the-board cuts of 5 percent rather than setting priorities.”
Were he in the Senate, Allen says, he’d push for passage of a budget bill—and a balanced budget amendment—rather than Congress’ habit of budgeting through continuing resolutions. In his last time in the Senate he did propose — in 2006 — a balanced budget amendment, which was never acted upon.
While he’s sharply critical of Kaine for supporting the sequestration deal last year, Kaine points out that he did so because it averted a debt default, and that many Republicans also supported the deal.
But Kaine doesn’t want to see the cuts take effect, and criticizes Allen for a position that would have led to default.
Kaine would rather see a debt and deficit reduction plan that combines cuts with revenues—specifically, he’d let the Bush tax cuts expire on people earning more than $500,000 a year, which Kaine says would produce $500 billion in added revenue over 10 years.
Kaine also advocates that Congress undertake a large-scale reform of the tax code, eliminating tax exemptions and preferences—especially for corporations, oil companies and wealthy individuals—and then lowering tax rates.
Allen has, in past statements, agreed in principle that eliminating many exemptions and reducing tax rates would be a good idea.
BUDGET DIVIDES THEM
Voters can also expect to hear a lot this fall about how to stop cost increases for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Kaine says Social Security isn’t the budget-buster that Republicans suggest it is.
“We have to find reforms but there is not an imminence, like you’ve got to do it immediately,” Kaine said. “Social Security is solvent, it’s not contributing to the deficit.”
He does see a need for some adjustments to the program; raising the payroll tax cap slightly, for example.
Medicare, Kaine said, is more challenging. He proposes eliminating a provision that doesn’t let
Medicare negotiate its prescription prices, but opposes any move to shift Medicare toward a private or voucher system.
“I don’t like the [Paul] Ryan plan in Medicare because it’s a cost-shifter,” Kaine said. “You make your federal budget look better by shifting off costs.”
He’d like to see Medicare focus more on incentives to providers for good outcomes, rather than simple reimbursements for procedures.
Kaine has painted Allen as being in lock-step with GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, whose proposals for Medicare and Medicaid do include a measure of privatization and shifting responsibility toward states.
But Allen says he would only support a private component to Medicare if it was voluntary and didn’t harm the current program.
“If there are additional retirement savings options that would be voluntary, I think those could be looked at, but it would be first of all voluntary, and it would be additional, as opposed to supplanting the existing program,” Allen said.
He’s careful to say he doesn’t advocate changing either Medicare or Social Security for current or soon-to-be retirees.
“No changes should affect anybody who’s currently in Medicare or Social Security,” Allen said. “They’ve planned their lives and they’re relying on Medicare and Social Security to be as the law is presently.”
Allen wants to reduce fraud in the Medicare system and consider raising eligibility ages for those whose retirement is in the long term.
While deficit reduction, sequestration cuts and safety-net programs are likely to be some of the biggest issues this fall, voters can also expect to hear a few other messages.
Kaine has gone after Allen for supporting a “personhood” bill in Congress that would define life as beginning at conception (Allen says he wouldn’t want it to affect the availability of contraception). Kaine is likely to continue pressing issues that relate to women’s rights and control over their own health choices.
Allen, meanwhile, is frequently critical of federal regulations, particularly those pertaining to natural resources like coal and other energy sources.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028