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Kaine Visits Ashby Ponds To Talk Economy, Social Security, Medicare

© Leesburg Today - 08/06/2012

Former Virginia governor and U.S. Senate hopeful Tim Kaine visited the Ashby Ponds retirement community in Ashburn Monday afternoon to discuss his campaign strategies as they relate to senior citizens.

Kaine is running for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who is not seeking another term in office. The seat will be up for grabs in November's election. He is running against Republican George Allen, who plans to make a campaign stop in Leesburg Tuesday afternoon.

Kaine said he didn't always plan to run for Senate. 

""When I was finished being governor, I thought I was done with elected politics,"" he said. ""Jim Webb surprised a lot of us by announcing he would not run again. It is not a good time to be on the sidelines. There are a lot of important issues facing the country…and being on the sidelines was not an option.""

If elected, Kaine plans to uplift the economy by investing in infrastructure, leveling the playing field for small businesses, focusing on talent in the workforce, and balancing the national budget and politics.

Calling himself a ""big infrastructure person,"" Kaine said he would promote spending money to build structures such as bridges, colleges, classrooms and laboratories. During the building process, jobs are available for construction. ""Once the building is over, you have an infrastructure people can take advantage of that will raise your platform for economic success,"" he said.

Kaine said he would also set out to make the lives of small businesses easier. ""We often make it hard on small businesses in this country,"" he said.

Therefore, he plans to alter policies that benefit big businesses. ""I want big businesses to succeed, but they usually don't need that much help,"" he added.

Overall, Kaine said all businesses would benefit from having talented people in the workforce. 

""That is what made Virginia, I am convinced, from the back of the pack to the front of the pack,"" he said, noting that 54 years ago, Virginia was ranked 38th in per capita income, while today it is seventh-the commonwealth shifted from one of the poorest to one of the wealthiest in the country. ""Talent wasn't the virtue and the value, but as soon as we made talent the virtue and the value, the Virginia economy started to change.""

To increase the amount of talented individuals in the workforce, Kaine said more young people need to attain degrees after high school, since the United States is ranked 16th in the world in regard to 20- to 30-year-olds who have degrees beyond high school. ""That does not bode well for us,"" he said.

In addition, Kaine said employers should take better advantage of veterans, since they make up a very important talent pool. Kaine asked those in the audience-the meeting space in Ashby Ponds was completely filled with a couple hundred residents-to raise their hands if they served in the military.

""There are a huge number of hands. Well, thank you for your service,"" Kaine said. ""As veterans and American citizens, we are aware of what is happening right now and that has to be very troubling. Veterans, especially those under 30…have an unemployment rate that is significantly higher than the national average. That is really evidence of a failing. We are not doing something right as policymakers and employers.""

The disconnect may be because civilians don't understand what veterans can bring to the table.

""Today, only 1 percent of folks serve in the military,"" he said. ""That means a lot of veterans walk into the workforce where people will say, 'We appreciate that you served.' There is not an understanding of the leadership skills or the technical skills that our veterans are bringing.""

Lastly, Kaine said he thinks both politics and the national budget should be balanced.

""I use the word balance intentionally as a double thing. We have to balance our budgets, but what we really need to do is have more balance in our politics-listening, compromising, finding common ground,"" he said, adding that such behavior is not occurring in Congress especially.

Ashby Ponds resident Pat Hemmer commented on the gridlock in Washington, DC, saying she has noticed the blatant differences between Republicans and Democrats during President Barack Obama's term.

""The other side said they wouldn't work with [Obama] and he would have a failed presidency. Then they stand there and say the economy is a mess, he hasn't done anything,"" she said, later asking Kaine how he would improve the situation.

In response, Kaine said, ""It is my hope that after this November election, some of the desire to make life hard for this president…may be at bay a little bit.""

Marrying into a Republican family-his father-in-law is former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton-Kaine recognizes the differences that arise between parties, as he is a Democrat. However, he also realizes that if both parties aren't willing to ""come to the middle and find solutions,"" then nothing will get done. ""The letter after your name doesn't mean anything if you can't get something done,"" Kaine said.

Alleviating the gridlock begins in the Senate, which has strayed from where it was supposed to be, Kaine said-senators have six-year terms and are supposed to build longstanding relationships with one another. So the Senate, in Kaine's opinion, should start working in a bipartisan way, with parties setting aside their views to do what's best for the country.

Kaine also recognizes that the United States is facing a ""very serious fiscal issue""-the federal budget. The government spends about $3.6 trillion is its  federal budget. However, the country brings in about $2.3 trillion in federal tax revenues, causing a $1.3 trillion gap. ""We have to figure out a way to close that gap,"" Kaine said.

While Kaine said he believes in cutting spending, he also believes in making investments along the way.

""If you are only cutting, you are making a big mistake,"" he said, then making a metaphor. ""When I look in the mirror, I always want to be thinner, but I never want to be weaker. No one says, 'Boy, I really wish I was weaker.'""

Kaine then moved the conversation to two topics specific to senior citizens, as they relate to the national budget: Social Security and Medicare. He quickly assured those in attendance that Social Security, despite some people's notions, does not add to the deficit because it is funded through its own trust, and that it isn't on the verge of insolvency.

""Social Security will have to be examined and tweaked and adjusted to keep it solvent over time,"" Kaine said. ""Congress has been able to do that by making adjustments here and an adjustment there. There is not a need for radical and dramatic change to keep it solvent. We can keep it that way without radical changes.""  

In contrast, Kaine said Medicare contributes to the deficit, since it is part of the general budget. Indeed, the Medicare budget will always increase, he said, by 3 percent because people live longer, so eligibility increases.

The major change Kaine would make to Medicare is altering Part D, which provides prescription drug coverage to anyone with Medicare. He would figure out a way to pay for the program, which he said Congress failed to do, and allow the federal government to negotiate the costs of pharmaceuticals, which it cannot do. 

In addition, he would adjust the Ryan Plan, which allows those with Medicare to be covered up to a certain threshold, and any expenses above the threshold would be on the individual's shoulders, Kaine said.

""If you think it through, that makes the federal budget look better,"" he said, stressing, however, that the plan is not a cost reducer, but a cost shifter, as it takes costs off the federal budget, placing them on the shoulders of senior citizens. 

Upon finishing his speech, Kaine opened up the floor to discussion, at which time many residents asked him questions regarding his previous decision as governor to close 19 highway rest stops, the lack of care for the mentally and physically handicapped, and taxes, among others.

However, resident Margy Smith addressed a topic that has earned widespread attention over the past few weeks: gun control.

In the wake of the Colorado shootings, when 24-year-old James Holmes allegedly shot and killed 12 people and injured 58 during a midnight showing of ""The Dark Knight"" last month, as well as the Wisconsin Sikh temple shootings that occurred Sunday, many are discussing whether gun control laws are effective. 

Smith wondered when another death or tragedy would occur before gun control laws were changed. Her question brought up memories for Kaine of the Virginia Tech April 16, 2007, shootings, when he was governor.

""[I remember] the days in the aftermath working with those families who had their lives so grievously affected by one individual who shouldn't have been able to get guns in the first place,"" Kaine said.

Although Kaine said the country must be humble enough to recognize that even with stringent gun control laws, tragedy could still occur, he would like to see people undergo background record checks before purchasing guns or ammunition from gun shows. He said he was an advocate of the Second Amendment and that people should have the ability to obtain guns for protection and hunting, for example. 

""But in order to either defend yourself or have the ability to hunt and fish, you don't need these high capacity or high assault weapons created purely to commit mayhem,"" he said, as sounds of clapping filled the room.

For more information about Kaine's campaign and Ashby Ponds, go to go.kaineforva.com and http://www.ericksonliving.com/loudoun-county/loudoun-county-senior-living.asp, respectively. 

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