Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley sparred Sunday for the first time as leaders of their respective parties' governors associations, drawing clear lines in the sand on federal spending, job growth and President Obama's performance on the economy.
The back-and-forth came as the two governors continue to rise as national political stars.
Mr. O'Malley took the helm of the Democratic Governors Association in December and Mr. McDonnell became chairman of the Republican Governors Association last week — posts that should position them well for higher office.
Mr. McDonnell said on CNN's "State of the Union" that it's "crystal clear" to every American that government has to cut spending as Washington leaders move forward with a deficit-reduction package. He also criticized what he called unfunded mandates imposed on states by the federal government, whether for the environment, federal health care reform or mental health.
"They've got to cut spending, and they've got to lessen the unfunded mandates on the states, [because] we can't afford it," said Mr. McDonnell, adding that short-term items such as extending unemployment benefits should be considered if they create jobs and promote economic activity.
Mr. O'Malley said he hopes Congress will return from August break to pass bills that make new investments in infrastructure, innovation and education while trying to balance the budget.
"If it's something that actually creates and inspires investment and innovation, I would be for it," he said.
On Saturday, speaking at the Maryland Association of Counties Conference, Mr. O'Malley suggested the state may have to raise taxes to deal with a projected $1 billion shortfall in fiscal 2013 — a notion that has been anathema to Mr. McDonnell and a Republican-controlled House in Virginia.
Mr. O'Malley argued that the growing national deficit was primarily driven by the Bush-era tax cuts that benefited "the most wealthy among us."
Mr. McDonnell said Sunday the federal government has already tried large-scale investments in recent years — and it hasn't worked.
"We've tried stimulus spending," he said. "We put very little into infrastructure, we put it into a lot of other spending that didn't create jobs, and now we've gone from 7.8 [percent] to 9.1 percent unemployment. I absolutely disagree with the governor. He continues to blame Bush. Here we are three years in the administration and starting to talk about jobs."
The two also used their appearance on national TV to tout — and critique — the performances of governors in their respective parties.
Mr. McDonnell pointed to the fact nine of the Top 10 pro-business states in Pollina Corporate Real Estate's rankings released last week were led by Republican governors. Virginia topped the list.
Mr. O'Malley shot back that in such states as Florida and Ohio, Republican governors such as Rick Scott and John Kasich, respectively, have not been as inspiring.
Mr. O'Malley pointed out that in New Jersey, where the governor is Republican Chris Christie, the state's bond rating was recently downgraded.
Mr. McDonnell defended his GOP governors, saying that Ohio, Michigan and Florida had their bond ratings increased recently because they took the lead on cutting spending.
Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat, can relate to the spots in which Mr. McDonnell and Mr. O'Malley find themselves.
Mr. Kaine served as Democratic National Committee chairman during his final year as governor, and stepped down earlier this year to run for the seat of retiring Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat.
Republicans have tried to derail Mr. Kaine's campaign by consistently linking him to President Obama, whose approval ratings have sagged with the stagnant economy.
"I got grief from legislators — citizens didn't give me any grief, because I think they understood that what you do is you go out and you proudly advocate for your party," Mr. Kaine told The Washington Times. "I think the important balance to strike is to advocate for principles without being personally negative, and I always tried to do that when I was DNC chair."
Mr. Kaine also said he and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor most always disagree on policy issues, but he's glad a Virginian is in such a leadership position.
"My feeling is, I'd rather have Virginians in all of those spots than not," he said. "It's not only good for Virginia to have these folks in leadership positions, it also means that at the national level, people look at Virginia as an important state."
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