- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2012

Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine said he would be open to having a minimum federal income-tax level for all people during a wide-ranging debate with Republican rival George Allen on Thursday afternoon, as both candidates ready themselves for the stretch run in their closely watched race.

The debate, moderated by “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, touched on the candidates’ positions on looming defense cuts, the current tumult in the Middle East and health care reform, but Mr. Kaine’s tax remarks generated the most buzz. The question from Mr. Gregory was partly a follow-up on a discussion about GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s statements in a recently unearthed video in which he seems to write off the vote of 47 percent of Americans who he said do not pay income taxes.

“I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone, but I do insist, many of the 47 percent that Gov. Romney was going after pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than he does,” Mr. Kaine said.

Asked afterward about the remarks, Mr. Kaine stressed he had also put out his own tax proposal — letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for those making more than $500,000 per year and cutting tax subsidies for the country’s five largest oil companies. He said the default position of a U.S. senator should not be to automatically say “no” — a reference to an anti-tax pledge promoted by conservative activist Grover Norquist.

“When David asked, ‘As a colleague, would you be open to consider this,’ I do not believe you start with, ‘I pledge allegiance to Grover Norquist’ … You can’t have one dollar of revenue even for 10 dollars in cuts,” he said. “You don’t start with the non-negotiables and the pledges. The pledge is your oath of office and a willingness to work and consider.”

Kaine senior adviser Mo Elleithee quickly posted a similar, more detailed response on Mr. Kaine’s campaign website that included Mr. Kaine’s remarks after the debate in response to Slate reporter David Weigel, who wrote during the debate that the comments were “one of the most obvious unforced errors I’ve ever seen.”

Mr. Elleithee pointed out that, as Virginia governor, Mr. Kaine removed thousands from the tax rolls by lowering the threshold for lower-income people paying income tax and that at the end of his term, Virginians’ overall tax burden was lower than it was under Mr. Allen.

But Mr. Allen, who wants to permanently extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels, said the remarks were part of a larger pattern.

“Well, it’s typical of Tim Kaine,” Mr. Allen said after the debate. “As governor, he tried to raise taxes on people earning as little as $17,000 a year. He wanted to raise taxes on buying used cars.”

Partly lost in the shuffle were the answers the two candidates gave to the original question about whether they agreed with Mr. Romney’s remarks.

“I really, really deeply disagree with the sentiments of Mr. Romney,” Mr. Kaine said, calling his statements “condescending and divisive.”

When pressed on whether he agreed with Mr. Romney’s point of view, Mr. Allen said, “I have my own point of view.”

“And my point of view is that people of America still believe in the American Dream, and our responsibility as leaders, as public servants, is to make sure that this is a country where everyone has that equal opportunity to compete and succeed and pursue their dreams,” he said.

The candidates also disagreed on how to avert the so-called “sequestration” cuts, which involve a $500 billion reduction in defense spending over the course of a decade starting next year, absent action from Congress as part of a deal reached last summer to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Mr. Allen said repealing President Obama’s health care overhaul would save the country $1 trillion in spending, though Mr. Kaine’s campaign pointed out that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected repealing the law would actually increase the deficit over the next 20 years. Mr. Allen also said redundancies and inefficiencies in the federal government could be ferreted out to find more savings.

Mr. Kaine, meanwhile, said that the approximately $1 trillion total in mandatory cuts (with the other half to come from domestic programs) could be whittled down to a $235 billion problem if his two tax ideas were implemented and if the government was allowed more flexibility to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs under a federal entitlement program for seniors.

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