RESTON, Va. - Courting the moderate voters they'll need to win election to the U.S. Senate in November, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine found some common ground Thursday during separate appearances before a panel of northern Virginia business leaders.
Allen, who calls himself a "common-sense Jeffersonian conservative," and Kaine, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, both said they oppose the massive federal spending cuts that are set to kick in on Jan. 1. They both said they favor simplifying the tax code. And they agreed that Washington is broken and needs more bipartisan cooperation.
They also agreed that the University of Virginia's governing board was wrong to oust President Teresa Sullivan without a meeting. The board voted unanimously this week to reinstate Sullivan.
But their differences kicked in immediately after Thursday morning's forum as they reacted to the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the individual mandate at the heart of President Barack Obama's health care reform law. Allen, who spoke second at the forum, stuck around to watch news reports about the decision.
"I'm disappointed that they had to use all this judicial creativity to call the mandate a tax," Allen said of the majority justices. "Unlike Tim Kaine, who thinks this is a great achievement, I want to be the deciding vote to repeal it."
Kaine said in a statement that insurance premiums and the number of uninsured both rose dramatically during Allen's term in the Senate.
"Clearly, inaction was not a solution, and neither are continued calls for repeal. Instead, we must work together to strengthen this existing program and improve cost controls," Kaine said.
Kaine and Allen, both former governors, are vying for the seat occupied by retiring Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat who unseated Allen in 2006. Both parties consider the race critical to controlling the Senate, and Virginia is also considered a swing state in the presidential race.
"This is going to be a neck-and-neck race _ the Romney-Obama race and the Allen-Kaine race," Allen said. "You're going to determine the future of America. This is our generation's rendezvous with destiny."
At the forum, sponsored by the Northern Virginia Technology Council, Kaine and Allen were asked similar questions by a panel of business leaders about taxes, federal spending and immigration.
A few differences emerged: Kaine indicated he was open to forcing online retailers to collect sales taxes, although he said the rates should not be onerous and some small businesses should be exempted. Allen said he opposed asking businesses without a physical presence in a state to collect sales taxes.
On Social Security, Allen said he favors raising the retirement age and eliminating Social Security benefits for "people making a million dollars." Kaine said he wants to lift the payroll tax cap _ which would force wealthier people to pay more into the system.
Both Allen and Kaine said they support tax reform that would encourage corporations to repatriate their foreign earnings. And they said they want to make it easier for foreign students to get visas and green cards after they graduate from American universities.
Asked about the recent turmoil at the University of Virginia, Kaine said he only spoke out in favor of Sullivan's reinstatement after he spoke to members of the Board of Visitors and became convinced that she never would have been fired at a full board meeting.
"The board has every right to want to work in a vigorous way to contest or challenge a president," Kaine said. "That is not an issue that needs to be done in secret."
Allen, the son of a professional football coach, appeared more reluctant to weigh in on the issue.
"It could have been handled better, but let's all unite behind the U-Va. football team," he said.
Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at http://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)