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Senate candidates George Allen (R) and Tim Kaine (D) debated tax policy, health care and discussed the culture of Washington, D.C., during their first debate in Fairfax County on Thursday.

Allen, a former Virginia governor and senator, went on the attack first, accusing Kaine of using the military as “a pawn to raise taxes on job-creating businesses.”

Kaine, also a former Virginia governor, took aim at Allen’s record on federal spending in the Senate and also said Allen’s attacks reflected the divisiveness that is plaguing Washington.

“That is exactly the kind of name calling that we have seen too much in Washington,” Kaine said.

Allen tried to paint Kaine as someone whose only answer to any issue is to raise taxes.

Kaine said Allen has not outlined a plan of his own, while detailing his three-pronged approach to the federal budget issues, which includes letting the George W. Bush administration’s tax cuts expire for people with incomes of more than $500,000. Kaine’s plan also involves eliminating subsidies to oil companies and reducing Medicare costs by negotiating prescription drug prices.

Allen did not outline an approach to dealing with sequestration during the debate, but repeatedly cited the need to allow oil and gas exploration off the Virginia coast as a job-creating measure.

Allen also seized on a comment from Kaine that he would consider having all Americans pay some federal income taxes. The subject came up in light of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s remarks about 47 percent of Americans who don’t pay income taxes and consider themselves “victims.”

“It’s typical of Tim Kaine,” Allen told reporters following the debate. “I don’t think that everyone in this country ought to be paying taxes.”

After the debate, Kaine clarified he said he would be open to considering that as part of tax reforms, but wouldn’t necessarily back it.

“I think that people of all income levels should pay taxes, and they do,” he said, just not necessarily federal income taxes. “Many people who pay no federal income tax, they’re paying a higher percentage of their income in taxes than Romney is.”

On health care, Allen said he would overhaul the health reform law championed by President Barack Obama. He said he would reduce costs by enrolling more people in high-deductible health insurance plans, making health insurance portable, and allowing small businesses to pool coverage.

“There are so many things that are wrong with this health care tax law,” Allen said.

Kaine said there is more that needs to be done to control health care costs, but he thinks it would be a wasted effort to start over.

“The last thing we need to do as a nation, on this issue or any other, is look in the rearview mirror,” he said.

The candidates also differed on social issues, including gay marriage and women’s issues.

In response to questions about gay marriage and about why more women are backing the Democratic candidate, Allen said social issues should not be the focus of the campaign. He said he opposes same-sex marriage.

“To me, the most important thing people in public service should do is work to create jobs,” Allen said.

Kaine countered social issues do have an impact on the economy.

“It is demeaning to suggest that these issues about women are just social issues,” he said. “If you force a woman to get an ultrasound against her will and pay for it, that is an economic issue.”

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com