RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen drew sharper contrasts Monday between themselves in a televised primetime U.S. Senate debate on the issues of entitlements seniors have paid all their lives, with Allen backing higher retirement age and Kaine promising to protect Social Security “to my last breath.”
The fourth of five debates between the former Virginia governors and the first before a statewide broadcast audience ranged from abortion and contraception to looming military cuts to a Supreme Court case over racial diversity initiatives on college campuses.
Though there were no game-changing moments, the debate provided a clearer window into the priorities and personalities in a neck-and-neck race that could determine whether Republicans wrest a narrow Senate majority from the Democrats.
In a debate sponsored by AARP and the League of Women Voters, questions about Medicare and Social Security shared center stage with related issues of taxation and women’s issues of pay inequality and access to abortion services.
Allen said he supports preserving Social Security as-is for people 50 and older, but favors increasing the minimum eligibility age and means testing for those 49 and younger.
“For millionaires, they don’t need to have the same benefits as those of lower income,” Allen said.
Kaine noted Allen’s support during his previous Senate term, from 2001 to 2007, for unsuccessful legislation to privatize Social Security. “That would have been a huge catastrophe prior to the (2008) collapse of Wall Street,” Kaine said. “If I am in the U.S. Senate, I will fight efforts to privatize Social Security to my last breath.”
On taxes, Allen accused Kaine of proposing several tax increases during his term as governor from 2006 into 2010, including a measure that would have increased taxes on people earning as little as $17,000 annually.
Kaine governed during the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, when soaring unemployment and withering investments and home prices forced Kaine and Virginia’s Republican General Assembly to reconcile billions of dollars in budget shortfalls. Two proposed transportation tax boosts and a general tax increase in his final budget never passed. Among the cuts Kaine imposed were rebating part of his own salary and shuttering 19 of the state’s interstate highway rest stops. Virginia’s estate tax was also repealed under Kaine’s watch.
Kaine shot back that Allen was part of a Republican-ruled Senate in league with George W. Bush’s Republican White House that inherited budgets running a surplus from President Bill Clinton and turned it into record deficits.
“We have a balance sheet that is broken. When George Allen went into the Senate, it was fixed. We had a surplus. But he broke both sides of the balance sheet. He dramatically slashed taxes and he jacked up spending $16,000 every second that he served for six years,” Kaine said.
Hold on, Allen said. In the six years since he left the Senate, four of them under Democratic President Barack Obama, that spending figure has increased to $47,000 per second, he said.
Asked directly by debate moderator Bob Holsworth whether he would support the House-approved budget authored by Budget Committee Chairman and GOP vice-presidential running mate Paul Ryan, Allen sidestepped into a rant against Affordable Care Act, the health care plan Obama pushed through Congress in 2010.
Kaine noted Allen’s support for a “personhood” bill that would outlaw virtually all abortions by extending the full legal protections of living, breathing individuals to a fetus from the instant of conception.
Allen sought to narrow the focus of the federal personhood measure, saying his intent was to hold accountable criminals who injure a woman and kill her fetus during a violent attack.
Asked where they stand on a pending U.S. Supreme Court case that will decide the constitutionality of tax-supported college diversity programs, Kaine said he hopes the court will “affirm that it is OK for a public institution … to try to make sure that the student body looks like the state looks.” But he said other factors besides race, such as household income, should also apply.
Allen wouldn’t take his commitment as far as Kaine.
“While affirmative recruitment makes good sense, I don’t want people who are qualified or better qualified being denied that opportunity,” Allen said.
By Bob Lewis