A few weeks ago, we asked Patch readers in Northern Virginia to throw out some questions for George Allen and Tim Kaine, both vying for the open U.S. Senate seat in Virginia.
So you asked and the candidates answered. Read Tim Kaine's responses here.
George Allen's answers, published below, are unedited.
1. There is considerable reporting in the popular media that Social Security and Medicare are in financial ruin and in need of a fix, but every time one person dares to speak-up and suggest constructive measures to save the system, the other candidate attacks that person for being insensitive to the needs of seniors and claim the proponent of modifications wants to dismantle the programs. How would you address these issues knowing full well the other side may attack you for being insensitive to our nation's seniors and others reliant on these programs?
Social Security and Medicare are a crucial part of our nation’s commitment to seniors and they need to be put on a solvent basis. These benefits are not handouts. People have paid into these programs their entire working lives, and they deserve the peace of mind of knowing that the benefits will be there for them in their retirement.
But Trustees reports are warning that the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds are being depleted, and at an accelerating rate. The significant challenges these vital programs face require civil engagement by leaders willing to work for constructive solutions. Political games aimed at distorting records are irresponsible and unfair to the people.
For me, an important principle is that there should be no disruption of benefits for those at our near retirement age. I would look at gradually raising the eligibility age for those under age 50 as well as asking whether millionaires need Social Security or Medicare benefits from the government. There also must be a focus on rooting out the $50 billion or more that Medicare wastes every year through improper and fraudulent payments – combined with a commitment to use Medicare savings to preserve Medicare and stop the diversion of $700 billion that will be taken out of Medicare for Obamacare. I am for solutions which promote personal responsibility, take advantage of technology, encourage long-term care insurance, and apply the tested principles of competition and choice to improve quality and reduce costs for the Medicare program. Further, Americans should have additional freedom to choose to invest their hard-earned dollars for their retirement security.
I bring a proven record of bipartisan work on behalf of seniors and hard-working Americans for the benefits they have earned. When I was Governor, we removed the unfair Virginia tax on Social Security benefits as well as the discriminatory tax on federal and military retiree benefits, helping older citizens on fixed incomes live more comfortable and secure lives. That’s the kind of leadership I aim to bring to Washington and I look forward to working with responsible Democrats and Republicans to preserve Social Security and Medicare for current and future seniors.
2. What have you done in your political career that has made you the most proud?
I am most proud that throughout my service I have kept my promises to the people of Virginia.
When I was elected Governor on an ambitious agenda, many said it couldn’t be done. But we brought people together, working across the aisle with the Democrats who controlled the General Assembly to achieve historic reforms. We fixed the broken welfare system and empowered thousands of people to know the dignity of a job; we abolished the lenient, dishonest parole system for felons, instituted truth-in-sentencing, and overhauled the outdated juvenile justice system, all of which made our communities safer; we invested in the success of every child by bringing high academic standards and accountability to our schools and we froze college tuition and established Virginia’s first pre-paid tuition program to make college more accessible and affordable. We cut taxes by over $600 million, streamlined regulations, and created an environment that encouraged businesses to invest and expand, and they did, creating over 310,00,000 net new private-sector jobs during those four years alone.
In the Senate, I worked with Republicans and Democrats to help lead our country through difficult days. I worked for tax cuts to keep our country from falling into a deep recession in the wake of the devastating attack of September 11th, 2001. The result? Over 7 million jobs were created. I worked across the aisle to keep harmful new taxes off the internet, provide tax relief for education investments, and to increase the death benefit for families of our fallen soldiers from a paltry $12,000 to $100,000.
Today, Americans are hurting, and I entered this Senate race because I envision a better future than we are having to endure these days. I have offered a detailed plan – my Blueprint for America’s Comeback – to get our economy healthy and creating more jobs. We need to unite to send a message to the world that America is Open for Business Again! with competitive taxes, reasonable regulations, productive energy and empowering education policies –the proven approach we took when I was Governor. If I have the honor of being Virginia’s Senator, my promise to you is that I will give the job all my energy and work with people in both parties to create jobs and get America ascending again.
3. There has been much discussion of accessing Virginia's offshore oceans as a good source for energy. Do you favor oil exploration or wind farms or both or neither? What legislation would you advocate to implement these objectives?
The first piece of legislation that I will introduce in the U.S. Senate is a bill to allow Virginia to safely produce oil and natural gas off our coast, and use the royalties for roads and transportation. This would not only increase domestic energy, it would also create approximately 2,000 jobs. With revenue sharing similar to the Gulf Coast states, we could also bring in $250 million annually in royalties and other revenue for Virginia.
Virginia has been trying for seven years to move forward with exploration of its energy resources. The Obama Administration ended the process of lease sales for exploration off Virginia’s coast in May 2010, and excluded Virginia from the five-year lease plan announced in 2012. It is time for Washington to stop blocking the energy Freedom that Virginians deserve from our coast to our coalfields.
4. What committee appointments would you seek and why?
Armed Services: As home to many strategic bases and private companies that provide quality services to our military, Virginia’s voice needs to be heard on this key committee. The federal government’s paramount responsibility is national defense, and I’ll be on the front lines to guide defense policy and fight dangerous cuts that risk our troops’ safety and our nation’s security – beginning with the devastating cuts being threatened because of last summer’s failed sequestration deal, which I opposed (and Tim Kaine says is ‘the right thing to do”).
Energy and Natural Resources: On this committee, I will be in a position to reverse the counterproductive policies that are locking up our plentiful American energy resources and keeping us vulnerable to foreign sources of oil.
Commerce, Science and Transportation: This committee lays the foundation for our economic competitiveness– from transportation infrastructure to the information superhighway. I will promote policies that support Virginia’s strong technology, biotech, and aerospace industries and help keep America the World Capital of Innovation, a priority as Governor and during my previous Senate service.
5. Which Senator in recent history (since 1970 or so) do you most admire and why? What characteristics of that Senator would you emulate?
Former Virginia Senator John Warner has my great respect and admiration. He is truly a unique blend of a military leader, country gentleman, legal scholar, historian, great storyteller and a true and loyal friend of our whole family.
Our partnership spans several decades, and we have worked together closely on any number of issues over the years – both during my service as Governor and as a strong team for Virginia when we served together in the Senate.
I admire his independent nature and his integrity, and believe these are important traits for a good Senator.
Serving with John Warner in the Senate, I had the opportunity to work closely with him as a partner for Virginia and America. Whether the issue was agriculture, technology, education, jobs, the military, judgeships or a host of other matters, Senator Warner always looked out for the interests of Virginians. Being a Senator for Virginia is a characteristic of John Warner’s service I will emulate.
Watching Senator Warner in his role as the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I know there was no greater advocate for our brave men and women in uniform. I seek to serve on that committee and carry forward the tradition of strong advocacy on behalf of our military and their families who sacrifice so much in defense of our freedoms.
6. With science literacy declining in respect to the rest of our first world partners, what methods would you use to further science and technology education in our schools? What do you see as the greatest roadblock in promoting Critical Thinking in the youth of today?
We must make sure our country is educating the scientists and engineers we need to be the World Capital of Innovation; they are the ones who will design and develop the new inventions, innovations, and intellectual property of the future. The Patch is a good example of innovation – creatively adapting technology to provide local community news that lets people know what is going on where they live and builds stronger communities.
With our economic competitors – such as China and India – more determined than ever to be key players in the fields of science, technology and engineering, we have to do a much better job of encouraging America’s young people to get interested and educated in these important fields – and at an earlier age. Education was an important part of our economic strategy as Governor. We incorporated math, science, computer and technology skills in Virginia’s core curriculum, created a new engineering school at VCU and invested in the George Mason University campus in Prince William County. They have a remarkable program there – the Aspiring Scientists program – which offers hands-on laboratory experience and is exactly the kind of program that will help get young people excited about studying these disciplines.
We need all our best talent, which is why I advanced new technology funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities as well as supported legislation including the National Innovation Act and the Protecting America’s Competitive Edge Act, to motivate more women and minorities to pursue science and engineering, and will continue to do so in the future.
7. Broadly, how do you plan to support domestic oil and energy production? And specifically, if elected, will you help push the Keystone pipeline forward immediately?
Gasoline prices have doubled and rising electricity costs are straining family budgets and hurting our businesses. Yet America is blessed with the most plentiful energy resources in the world under our land and water. Further, new discoveries and technologies, such as shale natural gas, shale oil, and coal-bed methane, are continuing to positively expand the energy map.
What is missing is the political will for America to take control of our energy destiny. I will provide the leadership to unleash the enormous economic potential of our American energy resources from Virginia to the Gulf to the barren North Slope of Alaska. That includes halting the EPA’s regulatory assault on coal and instead encouraging technologies that will continue to advance the use of coal to cleanly and creatively power our economy.
It is time to say “yes” to Virginia and American energy production, “yes” to the Keystone pipeline, and “yes” to American energy freedom for more affordable, reliable fuel, electricity, and food for American families and businesses. And using our American resources can create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and the government could receive over $1 trillion in revenues without raising taxes.
8. What is your opinion on the increase of drug use in high schools today and what would you do against this?
The spread of drugs disturbs me greatly, as it does parents across Virginia. Susan and I are parents of three children, and our youngest daughter just started high school. I think of all the promise and potential of my daughter and her classmates with their young lives ahead of them, and I am more convinced than ever that we must do everything we can to stop illegal drugs from dimming our youngsters’ bright futures.
I support drug-free school laws and want to make sure that our children have safe, drug-free environments in which to learn the academic basics that will prepare them for the opportunities and challenges they will face in life.
We must fight illegal drugs on all fronts – interdiction, enforcement, and prevention. The federal government has an important role in reducing the flow of illegal drugs into the United States, by securing our borders and interdicting drugs before they enter our country. We also need to support local law enforcement in going after the insidious labs that are producing highly addictive methamphetamines, and we must recognize and devise strategies to deal with rising problem of prescription drug abuse.
9. You are seeking to represent the State of Virginia - home to more than 300,000 Federal workers. What is your opinion of the Federal workforce and how will you serve this set of constituents in the Senate.
Federal employees are dedicated public servants who work hard on behalf of the American people. I am committed to ensuring that federal employees and retirees and their families are respected and treated properly.
As we work to get the federal government’s fiscal house in order, federal employees have been asked to sacrifice, as have many other American workers in this weak economy. I would like to enlist the assistance of the federal workforce to help control government spending and make government more efficient, effective and accountable. Federal employees are the ones who know their programs best and are most likely to recognize opportunities for cost-saving efficiencies. When they identify cost-saving ideas that are successful, they ought to receive a bonus from the savings.
I believe it is very important to honor the commitments made by government to federal employees and retirees. That is why, as Governor, I made it the policy of the Commonwealth to stop the discriminatory tax on federal and military retirees whose benefits had been taxed by the States.
During my previous service in the United States Senate, I worked on behalf of federal employees on many important issues. I sponsored legislation to allow federal civilian and military retirees to pay FEHBP and TRICARE supplemental premiums on a pre-tax basis. I supported efforts to repeal or amend the Social Security Government Pension Offset (GPO) and Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). And I worked for legislation that would allow federal employees and all individuals to use retirement plans to purchase long-term care insurance without early withdrawal penalties.
If I again have the honor and privilege of representing Virginians in the United States Senate, I will continue to work to ensure that our current and former federal employees are treated fairly and the federal government must honor commitments made to them.
10. Should MWAA continue to have a permanent hand in Metro by controlling tolls on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for the Silver Line? Can or should the federal government help reduce the impact of the Silver Line on toll drivers?
I am a long-time supporter of Rail to Dulles. As Governor, we moved the project forward by getting consensus on the alignment. As Senator, advocated for federal funding for Phase I.
Today, however, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority which was given control of the project has lost credibility because of waste, poor decisions, and a general dysfunction of the MWAA Board. This is unacceptable, especially for the hard-working families who have to pay higher tolls as a result.
I will partner with Congressman Frank Wolf, working to put in place reforms that will ensure that MWAA and the Dulles Rail project are run much more efficiently, and that decisions do not unnecessarily increase costs and tolls. Virginians ought to be a majority on the Board, and MWAA needs an Inspector General to protect taxpayers and toll road users and ensure that there is appropriate oversight of the Airports Authority. And there must be no further attempts to discriminate against workers and contractors who are not unionized.
The best prospect for additional federal funding to help hold down tolls is through the TIFIA loan program, and I will give my full support to securing financing for Phase II. I also believe that the State is going to need to provide more funding; however, it will probably need more confidence that the project is going to be run much more efficiently than it has been run in the last six years.