Defending feds is part of a Virginia senator’s job description, Kaine says

Former governor Tim Kaine is running for Senate. Former governor Tim Kaine is running for Senate. Joel Page/AP file photo

Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine took his campaign for a Senate seat to a crowd of retired and active federal employees Wednesday night, decrying as “revolting” how “some people want to make public employees an all-purpose punching bag in American life.”

Kaine stressed the importance of the federal workforce to Virginia’s economy and outlined his approach to Washington’s fiscal stalemate, speaking to some 100 at an Arlington, Va., community center. The forum was organized by the Federal-Postal Coalition, a grass-roots advocacy campaign of 30 unions and employee associations spearheaded by the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

With 300,000 federal employees in his state, Kaine said Virginia “has a more significant federal population than virtually any other state, so if you become a senator, it’s part of your job description.” He promised the audience that, if elected, he’d “be a champion and advocate for you with fellow senators.”

The Democrat, a former mayor of Richmond who also managed a law firm, contrasted his stance with that of his Republican opponent, former Gov. and Sen. George Allen, who, Kaine said, “at every campaign stop calls public employees sanctimonious social engineers.” Kaine said he rejects “such name-calling,” asking, “what kind of CEO would wage war on his own workforce?”

Reviewing the likely impact on federal pay and benefits from Washington’s ongoing fiscal dispute, Kaine described his opponents’ view as “the all-cuts approach,” or a “pledge of allegiance” to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist to never raise revenues, which Kaine submitted “would be bad for the economy, Virginia and the country.”

Instead, Kaine said he favors a “balance” of cuts and new revenues that allows investments in key areas such as education and infrastructure.

He said as governor during the 2007 recession, he was forced to make many cuts, but did so after consulting affected businesses and state employees. He proposed two examples of new sources of federal revenues: amending the 2010 Affordable Care Act to give the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services authority to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies; and shutting down some overseas military bases that the United States continues to fund because they are “stuck in a 1958 Cold War mentality.”

Kaine pressed Congress to “do its job,” quit “playing chicken” and avoid the threat of across-the-board budget cuts by “doing a deal before Election Day.” He drew an ovation when he said, “anyone who tries to hold the economy hostage to gain an edge in an election should not be in public office.”

The candidate specified the three committee assignments he would seek should he win the November election. They are the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel, for its education or “talent” focus; the Appropriations Committee, for its defense subcommittee; and Foreign Relations, for its subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, namely Latin America, where Kaine did missionary work.

Forum organizers are hoping to schedule a similar event with Allen.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized Kaine's work in Latin American. He was doing missionary work.

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