McAuliffe, asked how he would work to defuse such a confrontation in light of his pledge to seek bipartisanship, said through a spokesman that he sided with Democrats who refuse to bargain over any elements of the health-care law under threat of a shutdown.
Neither Cuccinelli, who is the state’s attorney general, nor McAuliffe, a businessman who rose to prominence as a Democratic Party fundraiser, strayed far from their stump speeches at the forum. Robert Sarvis, who is running for governor as a Libertarian, and several Republican and Democratic candidates for state office also addressed about 300 people at the dinner.
Both candidates have been in an all-out fight to win supporters in the business community, particularly in economically powerful Northern Virginia. Both used Sunday’s forum to call attention to their endorsements from key business groups.
Cuccinelli emphasized his opposition to the Affordable Care Act on the eve of the federal health law’s implementation. Without addressing a potential federal shutdown because of a Capitol Hill battle over funding Obamacare, Cuccinelli told the crowd that he was the first state attorney general to challenge the health law. Cuccinelli said he pushed back against the federal government to protect Virginians from costly measures imposed on the states.
Cuccinelli also went into detail about the implications of Virginia’s decision to forgo setting up state insurance exchanges and allow the federal government to manage them instead. He said the decision was intended to shield Virginia businesses from penalties of $2,000 per employee per year if those employees used subsidies in state-managed exchanges. He told the crowd that Virginia might have to take future legal action to argue that its businesses are exempt from those penalties because the exchanges are run by the federal government. He implied that, as governor, he would do so.
Cuccinelli also discussed teaming with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to fight the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to regulate stormwater runoff in the Accotink Creek watershed. Cuccinelli and the Democrat-led board said the EPA’s overreach might have cost the county at least $150 million if Virginia had not prevailed; other estimates put the pricetag at $300 million.
“That’s an awful lot for one regulation for one county,” Cuccinelli said. “And that’s what I’m trying to protect Virginia from, is that kind of regulatory onslaught that slows our businesses down, keeps them from hiring, keeps them from growing.”
Cuccinelli said those were the sort of business-friendly positions that explain why the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s TechPAC have endorsed him.
McAuliffe, appearing separately, blamed the Capitol Hill standoff over federal spending and Obamacare on “a few extreme members of Congress.” He warned that a government shutdown would have a devastating impact on Virginia’s economy because of its reliance on the federal government as an employer and source of spending.
“We cannot allow that to happen,” McAuliffe said. “We are in a very unique position here in Virginia, and we need to do everything we can to work in a bipartisan manner.”
McAuliffe otherwise ranged over the major points of his campaign. He pledged to boost teacher salaries, expand pre-K instruction and increase state subsidies for higher education, saying he would pay for those initiatives using $500 million in savings through the federally subsidized expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. He said expanding Medicaid would also create 33,000 new jobs.
“We need it in Virginia,” McAuliffe said, referring to Medicaid expansion. “Over the next seven years, it’ll bring $21 billion back into our economy.” He highlighted this difference with Cuccinelli, who opposes expanding Medicaid under the federal health law unless reforms are introduced to the state- and federal-government financed health-care program.
McAuliffe also emphasized that he would work in a bipartisan manner and reiterated his support for Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s overhaul of transportation funding.
“It wasn’t an easy thing for him to do. But Democrats and Republicans came together to support that bipartisan transportation bill. I went to both Democratic caucuses and spoke twice,” McAuliffe said. “My opponent was against it.”
McAuliffe also contrasted his support for Metro’s Silver Line expansion with Cuccinelli’s opposition. And he criticized Cuccinelli for supporting a $1.4 billion tax-cut plan without specifying what loopholes and tax breaks he would eliminate to balance the state budget.
McAuliffe touted his endorsements from several Republicans and the Virginia Credit Union League.
“On Friday, for the first time ever in their history, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce actually endorsed a Democrat for governor,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe received the loudest applause when he spoke out against discrimination, noting that Arab Americans in particular have been subjected to unfair scrutiny in recent years.
“Besides working in a bipartisan manner, a big part of bringing everyone to the table is ensuring there is no discrimination against any single Virginian,” McAuliffe said. “I’m here to tell you tonight that as governor, I will fight against any form of discrimination. I will not be afraid to call anyone out on the issue.”
In an interview afterwards, Cuccinelli reiterated earlier remarks that he did not want to see a shutdown.
“It gets more worrisome as time goes on,” Cuccinelli said. “I don’t think anybody’s particularly eager to see this confrontation happen.”
Cuccinelli said he believed the federal government must rein itself in, but that the reduction in spending and size must be gradual, occurring on a slope and not at a cliff.
But Cuccinelli stopped short of denouncing the confrontational tactics taken by some members of Congress, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Cruz is coming to Virginia to campaign for Cuccinelli this week. Cuccinelli, asked whether he has talked to members of Congress about backing off, said he has not been involved in those negotiations.
Cuccinelli also dismissed suggestions from McAuliffe and his supporters that he should speak out more forcefully against such tactics when McAuliffe himself has threatened to hold up a state budget unless it contained Medicaid expansion.
McAuliffe held a private fundraiser immediately following his remarks at the forum and left without talking to reporters. In response to a question about how McAuliffe would seek to defuse the confrontation on Capitol Hill in a bipartisan way, his spokesman, Josh Schwerin, replied:
“Congress should pass a clean continuing resolution to ensure that government remains open and hundreds of thousands of Virginians aren’t punished for Washington’s intransigence. Instead of attaching ideological poison pills, those issues should be debated on their own merits without using the threat of a government shutdown as a bargaining chip. It’s easy to say that you don’t support a shutdown, but Ken Cuccinelli needs to tell his Tea Party friends that using the threat of government shutdown to drive an extreme ideological agenda is dangerous and wrong.”