The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Allen, Kaine face off in Richmond debate
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND—Virginia’s Senate candidates again clashed on federal budget cuts, entitlement programs and women’s health issues in their only widely broadcast debate of this campaign.
The debate, held Monday at a PBS station in Richmond, was largely polite, with a silent audience and both candidates reiterating previously announced positions on the campaign’s major issues.
In a nod to last week’s presidential debate, Democrat Tim Kaine pledged his support for public broadcasting in his opening statement.
“I pledge not to fire Big Bird and not to defund public broadcasting,” Kaine said.
Republican George Allen was more forceful than he has been previously in denouncing Kaine’s decision to accept the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee during his last year as governor.
“It’s really the great unanswered question in this campaign: How does a governor decide to take on a second job that sends him all over the country” as a recession is taking hold in his state, Allen asked. “If Tim had given the governorship his full attention he might have avoided some mistakes. . . As governor you only get four years to have a positive impact on people’s lives. You were shutting down rest areas that last year. . . . Now you’re asking for another job, when another job that you had for the people of Virginia, you did not give them 100 percent.”
Kaine responded that Allen himself spent two years as chairman of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee as governor, and that former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore was Republican National Committee chairman in his own last year as Virginia governor.
Kaine said he thought that his last year in office was “my best year,” in which he and lawmakers increased open-space protections, recruited businesses and banned smoking in restaurants.
One issue new to the campaign was raised by moderator Bob Holsworth, who asked both candidates what they think of an upcoming Supreme Court case that could overturn affirmative action at colleges and other public bodies.
But both men essentially had the same position, agreeing that they favor allowing colleges to keep programs that help increase diversity. Kaine said he hopes the court “would affirm that it is OK for a public institution, whether it’s a public body handing out contracts or a college admitting students, that it’s OK for them to make sure their student body looks like the state looks.”
Allen said he, too, is in favor of “affirmative recruitment.”
“I wouldn’t want to deny anyone an opportunity based on their race,” Allen said. “People of good hearts and good minds can come up with a proper way of addressing the need for young people, all people, to get a good quality education.”
Given that the debate was co-sponsored by AARP, it’s not surprising that the candidates got several questions on Social Security and Medicare.
Allen said he favors gradually raising the eligibility age for people who are under 50 now, both for Social Security and Medicare, and applying additional means testing for wealthy beneficiaries. He said he does not want to change either program for current beneficiaries.
Kaine said he would allow the payroll tax cap to adjust upward over time, rather than changing the retirement age. He accused Allen of supporting privatization of Social Security; Allen has said in the past he doesn’t want total privatization, but could support private-sector options.
“I will fight efforts to privatize Social Security to my last breath,” Kaine said.
In response to a question about the death of the American ambassador in Libya, Kaine said he considers it an “act of war” and believes that if there is solid intelligence on al–Qaida terrorists’ whereabouts, “we need to go get them.”
“Given what they did to Ambassador Stevens and the Navy Seals that were killed, they have committed an act of war against this country and it’s very important that we pursue them,” Kaine added.
Allen agreed, adding that the situation is a reminder of the danger of military cuts, and that there should be additional strings attached to foreign aid.
Holsworth asked Allen whether the Republican-dominated General Assembly, in passing a bill last session requiring a woman to have an ultrasound before having an abortion and nearly passing a “personhood” bill declaring that life begins at conception, was venturing too far into women’s privacy.
Allen, who supports a federal personhood bill, said that while “some of those issues are state issues,” he doesn’t favor legislation that would limit women’s access to contraception.
“I would never prohibit contraceptives. I think women ought to be able to have access to contraceptives,” Allen said.
He also criticized members of his party who argue that providing contraceptive access through health insurance is an affront to some people’s religious conscience.
“Anybody who says something like that is just playing politics. We can have religious liberty and have women have access to contraceptives,” Allen said.
Asked about the massive amounts of third-party money flowing into campaign advertising this year thanks to two 2010 court decisions, Kaine said he would support legislation to require disclosure.
“No one should be able to give money to campaigns and give it in secrecy,” Kaine said. “I will try very, very hard to make sure there’s no secret money in politics, and voters have the right to know who’s funding campaigns.”
Allen said he’s “strongly in favor of freedom” as well as disclosure, and that if federal laws allowed more freedom for campaign donations, more money would go directly to campaigns instead of to third-party groups.
On a topic that has dominated the campaign—federal spending, budget cuts and especially the “sequestration” cuts that could severely impact Virginia’s federal contractors—both sides reiterated the positions they’ve held throughout the campaign.
Congress put the sequestration cuts in place last year to avert a debt default, but they could take effect in January if lawmakers don’t act to change them.
Kaine wants Congress to let the “Bush” tax cuts expire on people earning more than $500,000 a year, and allow Medicare to negotiate for prescription drug prices. Those two actions, he says, would help reduce the deficit and the need for the sequestration cuts.
Allen favors a plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, which he says would save billions of dollars; root out waste and fraud in Medicare and Medicaid; and simplify the tax code, especially on businesses, which Allen said would encourage job creation.
On this issue, the fire between the men is not friendly. Allen accuses Kaine of putting soldiers and Virginia workers at risk by supporting last year’s debt deal that put the sequestration cuts in place, while Kaine says Allen would have risked the U.S. debt rating and reputation by opposing the deal and refusing to consider revenue increases.
This was Allen and Kaine’s fourth debate; their last one will be held Oct. 18 in Blacksburg.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028