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Republican candidate George Allen (right) and Democratic candidate Tim Kaine debate politely Thursday
McLEAN--In the third debate of Virginia's U.S. Senate race, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen traded jabs about defense cuts, partisanship and tax policy.
Kaine and Allen were facing off at the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce debate in Northern Virginia Thursday in a meeting that was largely civil and broke little new ground on issues.
It began with a question about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comments.
In response to that query from moderator David Gregory of NBC News, Kaine said he "would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone."
Kaine later told reporters he was simply indicating an open mind.
"I said sure, I'd be open we can't start with non-negotiables," Kaine said. "I don't think it should be that newsworthy if a senator is willing to consider what a colleague proposes."
Kaine said people at all income levels do pay a variety of taxes, and that many who don't pay a federal income tax still pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than Romney does.
Allen jumped on Kaine's comments when speaking with reporters, saying an openness to raising taxes is "typical of Tim Kaine his solution to everything is raise taxes."
For his part, Allen avoided directly distancing himself or tying himself to Romney's comments about 47 percent of Americans not paying income tax being "victims" and "dependent on government."
"I have my own point of view, and my point of view is that the people of America still believe in the American dream," Allen said, adding that he wants to get more people back to work and lower taxes.
Kaine said he thought Romney's statements were "condescending and divisive."
Kaine focused many of his debate answers on the need for bipartisanship and compromise, saying that Congress is "stopping progress right now" because of lawmakers' unwillingness to work together to find compromises on issues.
He reiterated his own proposal to reduce the federal deficit by letting the Bush tax cuts expire on those earning more than $500,000 a year--a compromise, Kaine says, between Democrats who propose letting the cuts expire on those earning $250,000 or more, and Republicans who want to make the cuts permanent for everyone.
Between revenue generated that way, reducing prescription drugs costs on Medicare and removing tax subsidies for large oil companies, Kaine said, the deficit can be reduced to a more manageable level.
Allen asked Kaine if he'd had an economic analysis done of that plan, and its impact on jobs.
Kaine later told reporters that economists have said letting the cuts expire on top earners "will not hurt jobs."
That is Kaine's solution to the problem of sequestration, which is a bipartisan deal cut in Congress last year that raised the debt ceiling and put in place billions in spending cuts--half of which would come from defense --if lawmakers don't rework the cuts by this coming January.
Should the defense cuts particularly go into effect, states like Virginia --heavily dependent on the federal defense industry --are projected to lose thousands of jobs.
Kaine supported the deal last year but doesn't want the cuts to take effect; Allen never supported it and opposes any deal that would raise taxes. Allen called the sequester deal "another example of Washington leaders not making decisions."
Allen repeatedly invoked the jobs impact of policies, and said the race between him and Kaine is a question of "which approach is best for job-creating Virginia businesses."
Both men were asked how they would approach changing tax deductions, particularly for mortgages.
Both have spoken in favor of tax reform that would eliminate many deductions while lowering rates.
Allen said he would like to give taxpayers "the freedom to choose a flat tax"--he envisions that as an option in the tax code, while still allowing people to take deductions instead if they prefer.
Kaine said he'd like to see reform that limits the aggregate amount of deductions an individual can take, rather than fighting in Congress over each individual type of deduction.
Asked how he'd deal with the federal health care law, Allen said it should be "repealed and replaced," but said he likes the provision covering children up to age 26. He said he would like to see individual, portable health savings accounts.
Kaine, who is on the record supporting the health care law, said "the last thing we need to do as a nation is spend our time looking in the rearview mirror."
Gregory also sought to pin down Kaine on same-sex marriage, an issue on which he has been vague.
Allen is not--he said he believes marriage "should be between one man and one woman."
Kaine said he believes in equal rights for same-sex couples, but that it should be up to states to decide whether to define such partnerships as marriage.
Allen was asked why polls repeatedly show that women voters favor Kaine. This comes in a year when social issues involving women and women's health care--Virginia's new requirement that women seeking an abortion get an ultrasound, for example--have been big news.
Allen said he thought he'd do well with men and women both.
Kaine used the question to say he thinks women's support is not just about social issues but about economic ones.
"If you force women to have an ultrasound procedure against their will and pay for it, that's an economic issue," Kaine said.
Allen and Kaine will debate twice more, at a PBS station in Richmond on Oct. 8 and in Blacksburg on Oct. 18.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028