MCLEAN, Va. — Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine showcased distinctively different messages on federal fiscal policy and the economy Thursday in the third of five one-on-one debates in a Virginia U.S. Senate race that could determine which party rules the Senate.
In an exchange that never steered far from jobs and the struggling economy, Kaine called for a blend of spending cuts and tax increases, including what he said was his willingness to consider a simplified tax code that could require some payment at every income level.
“I would be open to a proposal to have some minimum tax level for everyone,” Kaine said when the debate moderator asked about how broad tax responsibilities should be.
The question was a follow-up to questions put to both candidates about secretly recorded comments of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to donors at a private fundraiser that 47 percent of voters who pay no tax and are dependent on government will be beholden to Democrats.
Kaine said he does not espouse lowering the bar for taxpayers without comprehensive reforms that would lower overall rates and recalibrate deductions.
“I only said I would be open to considering it,” he said after the debate, contrasting it to Allen’s refusal to accept any revenue increase.
He said his plan is to allow tax cuts instituted under former President George W. Bush to expire for those earning more than $500,000 a year, take away federal subsidies for major oil companies and allow for negotiated prescription drug prices for Medicare.
The former Democratic National Committee chairman called for a thaw in the frigid partisanship that has largely paralyzed a Democratic Senate and a Republican House.
Allen, meanwhile, reveled in the focus on an economy that has produced nearly four years’ worth of unemployment rates topping 8 percent. He worked it into every answer he gave, regardless of the question.
He stuck to his longstanding posture that the federal debt, now spiraling beyond $16 trillion, be reined in through cuts alone while arguing for an optional flat tax that proponents also say would require all income brackets to pay something.
Allen said he favors allowing individual taxpayers the choice of a flat tax, which prescribes a lower overall rate for all income brackets and allows for no or few deductions, or continuing with the existing tax code, which allows targeted deductions.
Citing an analysis by the conservative Heritage Foundation, he said lowering the tax rate on businesses from 35 percent to 25 percent would create 500,000 new jobs.
The sluggish economy and efforts to address the federal debt dominated the hourlong debate, either directly or as a subtext to questions seemingly as unrelated as gay rights and Allen’s use of a disparaging term six years ago against an American-born college student of Indian descent who videotaped him for Democrat Jim Webb.
Kaine said the most grievous aspect of Allen’s actions before a white crowd of supporters in southwestern Virginia that day was to pick out one person who looked different and cast him as an outsider.
Kaine also said government ought not deny to same-sex couples the benefits such as shared insurance coverage that heterosexual couples enjoy, though religions must remain free to recognize relationships as they see fit.
Allen said he believes marriage and its privileges should be limited to unions of one man and one woman.
In revisiting Allen’s use of the term “macaca” against Webb aide S.R. Sidarth in 2006, Allen noted that he apologized, that he regrets it and that it was a mistake, but that the issue of reliable jobs is a larger concern now.
Despite persistent questioning from debate moderator David Gregory, host of NBC’s “Meet The Press,” Allen would not say whether he shared Romney’s view of the 47 percent of the electorate that he called dependent on government entitlements.
“As I stated in the beginning, David, the best social program of all is a job,” Allen said, refusing to abandon the single message he brought into the debate.
Kaine called Romney’s comments “divisive.”
“It might have been off-the-cuff, it might have been a gaffe, I think the sentiment was one that I do not think Virginians agree with and I’m very thankful that they don’t,” Kaine said.
Allen and Kaine both supported the drawdown and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Allen continued to harangue Kaine over his support for an agreement last year between the White House and Congress to impose deep, indiscriminate cuts to military and domestic spending as a condition for increasing the nation’s debt limit.
Kaine said that without the 2011 budget control deal, the nation would have defaulted on its debts for the first time, touching off a global banking and economic crisis. He noted that the deal also had the support of leading congressional Republicans.