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Fairfax Times - Statesmanship, Not Brinkmanship, Needed in Budget Talks


Location: Unknown

By Tim Kaine

Congress faces a self-inflicted budget crisis. If it fails to find agreement by the end of the year, more than 200,000 Virginians who work in defense-related industries could lose their jobs.

These sequestration cuts are the wrong approach. It is not too late, however, for our leaders to find common ground on a deal that prevents these cuts and puts our nation on a course to fiscal stability.

To fix our crisis, we must first understand how we got here. Some insist it began this past summer with a deal to avoid default on our obligations. I supported that compromise, along with Virginia leaders such as Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Jim Webb (D) and U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R).

My opponent was part of a loud minority opposing compromise and urging the crisis be used as "leverage" to further a conservative agenda. Standard & Poor's downgraded America's creditworthiness largely because of such irresponsible brinkmanship, and the U.S. paid $1.3 billion in added costs as a result.

The reality is our debt crisis began more than a decade ago. In 2000, thanks to smart budgeting during the Clinton-era, our nation had a record surplus and was on track to pay off our debt entirely. Under President George W. Bush and with Republican control of Congress, leaders like my opponent George Allen voted for tax cuts without paying for them; voted to engage in two wars, without paying for them; and voted for trillions more in domestic spending, without paying for any of it.

Allen and his colleagues eliminated pay-as-you-go budgeting rules and the result was massive deficits.

This free spending helped create the crisis we face today. To solve it, we need leaders who understand fiscal responsibility and know how to work together.

First, we must determine the size of the budget gap we need to close by deciding whether to extend the expiring Bush tax cuts. By 2019, the Bush tax cuts, combined with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will account for almost half of the $20 trillion in debt the nation likely will owe. My opponent wants these tax cuts to be made permanent, although he offers no plan to pay for the tremendous cost of doing so. His approach would make the gap we have to close much larger, increasing the likelihood of catastrophic cuts. President Barack Obama has called on Congress to allow these tax cuts to expire for those making more than $250,000.

I believe there's a middle ground.

Congress should allow these tax cuts to expire for those earning more than $500,000. Doing so would generate more than $500 billion in revenue to pay down the deficit and avoid harmful sequestration cuts to defense and domestic spending. My proposal would decrease the deficit gap, bringing us closer to a balanced budget.

In addition to new revenues from allowing the tax cuts to expire, we also need to find smart savings to close our annual budget gap and begin to pay down our national debt. As governor, I cut spending by $5 billion and balanced Virginia's budget all four years. We made tough cuts, but we also sought new revenues to ensure we could make forward-looking investments in priorities, such as education and infrastructure, that created jobs. I advocate the same approach at the federal level -- about $3 in cuts for every $1 in new revenue, largely by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthy and repealing taxpayer subsidies to big oil companies.

My opponent has a different approach. He ridicules compromise and presses for tax cuts that would widen the deficit, although he offers no plans to pay for them, and a slash-spending approach that would devastate the economy and harm national defense.

Despite his vague promises to protect defense, it is clear his only avenue for paying down our debt is massive spending cuts to priorities including defense.

Finally, I believe Congress must set aside partisan maneuvering and work in earnest to reach an agreement -- now. We can't wait until after Election Day to address these challenges. Congress is drawing a paycheck -- surely they can find an agreement to avoid draconian cuts that would harm our national defense and devastate the Virginia economy. We can't go back to irresponsible budgeting and the partisan approach that created this mess.

We need leaders who know how to find common ground, and have the backbone to make the right fiscal decisions.

Tim Kaine was the 70th governor of Virginia and is a candidate for U.S. Senate.

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