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In recent weeks, Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen’s website has opened with a picture of a chained iron gate and the headline: "Devastating job losses for Virginia."
"Tim Kaine doubled down in his support of devastating defense cuts, saying the ‘the deal was the right thing to do,’" the webpage proclaims.
The claim originates from a July 21 debate in Hot Springs between Allen and Kaine, the Democratic senate nominee. Allen criticized last year’s congressional deal to raise the nation’s debt limit, a compromise that could trigger $500 billion in automatic defense cuts to begin in January.
"George, the deal was the right thing to do," Kaine said.
Allen, on his website and at numerous appearances, has used that comment to argue Kaine supports those looming defense cuts which, according to projections from George Mason University, could cost Virginia 136,000 jobs.
So we took a look at Allen’s claim that Kaine not only backed the automatic defense cuts, but has "doubled down" in his support of them.
The debt ceiling is the legal limit the federal government can borrow and, since its establishment in 1917, Congress routinely raised it almost 80 times so the United States could continue to meet its obligations. Allen, during his term in the Senate from 2001 to 2007, voted four times to increase the cap.
But the comity ended during the summer of 2011 when the U.S. hit its $14.2 trillion limit and neared an Aug. 2 deadline when it would start defaulting on debts if it couldn’t borrow more. Republicans insisted on tying a borrowing increase to passage of a debt reduction plan. Negotiations between Congress and the White House stalemated, with the GOP demanding that all of the debt reductions come from spending cuts and Democrats insisting that a portion come from tax increases.
A last-second compromise passed the House by a 269-161 vote on August 1 and, a day later, cleared the Senate on a 74-26 vote. It took a two-step approach to lowering debt.
The first part called for an initial $900 billion in deficit reductions over 10 years through a mix of national security and domestic spending cuts.
The second part created a bipartisan congressional super committee assigned to come up with at least an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions over nine years through spending cuts, tax revenues or both. If the panel deadlocked, $1 trillion in automatic cuts over nine years -- split evenly between defense and domestic programs -- would be triggered at the start of 2013.
While the initial $900 billion in cuts received little attention, the added $1 trillion in automatic cuts, called sequestration, was supposed to be such a dire consequence that it would spur the super committee to craft a bipartisan package of deficit reductions.
Although measure passed with bipartisan support, neither Democrats nor Republican were enamored with it. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-7th, voted for the bill although he said it was "not perfect." Still, Cantor said, "This measure that cuts spending and puts in place long-term fiscal reforms marks the first big change we have accomplished."
President Barack Obama signed the bill, calling it an "important first step to ensuring that as a nation we live within our means."
When the initial compromise was struck in Aug. 1, Kaine, called it a "flawed but necessary agreement."
"While far from perfect, the current approach before Congress maintains economic stability by raising the debt ceiling and enacts important spending cuts that will help preserve our nation’s and Virginia’s credit rating," Kaine said.
Kaine expressed optimistic about the panel. "I sincerely hope that negotiating without the specter of default or economic collapse will result in less partisan maneuvering and grandstanding and more pragmatic solutions," he said.
But last November, the commission announced it failed to come up with a deficit reduction plan, starting the clock ticking towards the automatic cuts that will begin in January unless the White House and Congress intervene.
Kaine said in a November 21 news release that he still hoped that deep defense cuts would be avoided. He suggested Congress turn to bipartisan deficit proposals made by a White House commission in late 2010 and by a group of six senators including, Mark Warner, D-Va.
"There are good models on the table -- Simpson/Bowles proposal and the Gang of Six -- that can be the basis of a meaningful solution that will avoid harmful cuts to defense and health care, cuts that have a particularly negative impact on Virginia," Kaine wrote.
Fast forward to the July 21 debate, and Kaine basically said the same thing.
"I believe Congress can still find a deal to avoid the need for cuts that are going to jeopardize our nation’s defense," Kaine said. "Thank goodness Mark Warner and others in the Gang of Six are working to try to find a path forward that will avoid these cuts."
Kaine, on Sept. 17, endorsed several steps to raise revenues that would replace most of the $1 trillion in sequestration cuts. He called for allowing Bush-era tax cuts to expire for those with incomes of $500,000 or more, repealing the prohibition on Medicare negotiating with prescription drug companies and ending tax breaks to the "Big Five" oil companies. Those moves -- all likely to face strong opposition in Congress -- would generate about $750 billion over 10 years, according to federal projections.
Allen voted four times to raise the debt ceiling when he was in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2007. But while the issue was being debated in 2011, he urged Republicans to hold out. "We conservatives have to say, `If you want us to vote for this, there need to be real cuts...and if we don’t get it, we’re not going to vote for that debt ceiling increase."
Allen, during the 2011 debt limit debate, signed a "cut, cap and balance" pledge that was embraced by many conservative and tea party Republicans. It called for $100 billion in immediate, unspecified budget cuts, a Balanced Budget Amendment, a super majority vote to raise taxes, and phasing in of a cap that in 2017 would limit federal spending to 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Federal spending this fiscal year is projected at $3.8 trillion, or 24.4 percent of the nation’s $15.6 trillion GDP.
Allen has signed a pledge not to support any tax increases. In campaign appearances and policy papers, he has endorsed broad, unspecific policies for reducing spending: a federal government hiring freeze that would not include the military, less regulation and the rooting out of waste.
He is calling for significant reform to entitlement programs, praising Republican proposals to turn Medicare into a program in which seniors would receive government subsidies to purchase private insurance and calling on Washington to cede control of Medicaid to states. He says aggressive development of U.S. fossil fuels will create jobs and "billions in revenues without raising taxes."
We should note that Gov. Bob McDonnell -- a Republican and longtime military man -- supported the debt limit deal in 2011 and recently reaffirmed his position in an Aug. 15 speech to the General Assembly’s money committees.
The governor said that the compromise was passed in the shadow of a looming default on U.S. debts. "For that reason, many reluctantly supported the final agreement that passed, not because of what it contained, but because of what it prevented," McDonnell said.
The governor, in the same speech, said that the defense cuts would be "devastating" to Virginia.
Allen said that Kaine, in sticking by his endorsement of the the 2011 debt deal, is "doubling down" in his support of looming defense cuts.
There’s no doubt Kaine backed the debt-limit agreement at the time and does not second-guess his support. He said, during a debate this summer, "the deal was the right thing to do." So Kaine cannot divorce himself from the consequences of the deal.
The consequences -- $1 trillion in cuts to split evenly between defense and domestic programs was set up as a bitter pill so unpalatable to Republicans and Democrats that it would spur a compromise in slicing the deficit. The cuts were set up as a possibility, not a guarantee.
Kaine has consistently said he supported the deal because it was important to raise the debt limit so Washington could continue pay its bills. There’s no record of Kaine calling for the deep defense cuts; to the contrary, he repeatedly said he hoped Congress would strike a compromise to avoid them. That’s the same position that Gov. McDonnell, a Republican, embraced last year and defended this summer.
We doubt that Allen would level the same charge against McDonnell that he has against Kaine. That’s because it is possible to have supported the compromise out of a desire to keep Washington solvent and wish no harm to the nation’s defense.
So we find Allen’s statement has some accuracy but is lacking in context. We rate it Half True.
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