The Post’s View

An early flip-flop for Senate candidate George Allen

AS A ONE-TERM Republican senator, George Allen voted four times to raise the nation’s debt ceiling — an expansion totaling $3.2 trillion — explaining at one point that, while it was unpleasant, increasing the limit was the responsible thing to do. Today, as a candidate trying to regain the Virginia Senate seat he lost in 2006, Mr. Allen has found the new debt-limiting religion, and he’s peddling it with the fervor of a convert.

Condemning the spendthrifts in Washington among whom he used to move so collegially, Mr. Allen now blasts the eleventh-hour deal in Congress to avoid default, saying it provides no “long-term solution to our debt crisis.” A spokesman confirms that Mr. Allen, had he been in the Senate, would have voted Tuesday with the minority to defeat the deal.

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So much for Mr. Allen’s erstwhile concern for doing the responsible thing.

Mr. Allen’s cynical flip-flop can be seen partly in the context of Virginia’s Republican primary for the Senate, in which he faces former state Tea Party head Jamie Radtke, whose bona fides as a debt-ceiling diehard are unassailable. Ms. Radtke, like Republican presidential candidate and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), opposes raising the government’s borrowing limit under any circumstances, damn the torpedoes.

Mr. Allen doesn’t go quite that far. But by insisting that a balanced-budget amendment be included in any deal, he sets the bar beyond the realm of political reality. In effect, Mr. Allen’s stance was no less likely to lead to default than Ms. Radtke’s.

His position stands in contrast with that of the likely Democratic nominee for Senate, former governor Timothy M. Kaine, who backed the debt deal despite the distaste it engendered among his party’s liberal rank and file. But Mr. Allen’s stance also clashed with Virginia’s Republican mainstream. Even as he condemned the debt deal, his fellow Virginia Republicans, including Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, were supporting it. They correctly noted it was imperative to avoid a default on America’s obligations, which would have triggered a catastrophic downgrade in the nation’s credit rating.

Just as disturbing are the implications of Mr. Allen’s new stance for Virginia’s finances, and for the prosperity of Northern Virginia, the state’s economic dynamo. If the debt deal had been defeated, not only would the likelihood of a downgrade in the credit rating of U.S. Treasury bonds become a certainty, so would a downgrade of Virginia’s own bonds. In fact, Moody’s Investors Service had already warned Virginia and four other states whose economies are highly linked to the federal government that Washington’s debt-ceiling tremors had put them at risk of a credit downgrade.

That would be disastrous for the state, as Mr. McDonnell and other Virginia Republicans recognized. Interest payments would soar — for bonds issued by the state as well as counties and cities — and federal funds for public schools, highway building and other basic functions of government would have taken a devastating hit. The impact would have been particularly severe for federal workers and contractors, a critical segment of Northern Virginia’s population and economy.

As governor, Mr. Allen expanded state spending dramatically and left office in good standing; in many respects, he was a pragmatist. As a candidate for the Senate, his attempts to rebrand himself as an insurgent ring hollow.

 
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