Interview: Sen. Pat Toomey
I spoke to freshman Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) by phone on Friday afternoon. He had arrived back in Pennsylvania Thursday night, and he told me that he is going to spend this week "crisscrossing the commonwealth" to get a read on his voters' views on the budget, the debt and government spending.
But we first talked about the administration's veto in the U.N. Security Council, just an hour before we spoke, of an anti-Israel resolution. Toomey was critical of the administration's handling of the episode and specifically its efforts to negotiate some sort of compromise with Israel's foes. He said, "I think this was a big mistake. This resolution was one in a long line -- by the Palestinians and others -- to harm and delegitimize Israel." Toomey argued that we should "from the beginning" have made clear we would veto any resolution.
On the Middle East more generally, Toomey is concerned about the administration's "inconsistency." He points to the contrast between the administration's actions in Egypt and its behavior in June 2009. In Iran, he says, there is a regime that "simply couldn't be worse" for the people of Iran, the security of the region and the security of the United States. And yet when the Iranian people "rose up in an attempt to rid themselves of this regime . . . the administration remained silent."
Although Toomey may be a freshman senator, he's hardly inexperienced. He served three terms in the House (earning a rating by the American Conservative Union of 97%) and then headed Club for Growth, a conservative group that has long championed efforts to limit government spending. He hasn't, at least not yet, adopted the senatorial loquaciousness that afflicts many veteran senators.Toomey speaks without the usual Beltway jargon in clear, declarative sentences.
Returning to government Toomey finds a "strikingly different" attitude among his colleagues on spending, the deficit and the debt, which was not in vogue when he left the House six years ago. He is impressed with "the extent to which they understand he have a [fiscal] crisis. They get it."
Unfortunately, Toomey doesn't think the president gets it. He said he finds it "very, very surprising" that the president chose to insert himself in the Wisconsin labor dispute when "he has quite a lot of challenges" in Washington. Needless, to say Toomey was not pleased with the president's budget proposal. He says bluntly, "The president's budget was an abrogation of his responsibility to lead the country." He observed that the budget is "so systematically full of" budget tricks that it simply isn't a credible effort. He pointed to the "excessively optimistic assumptions -- on growth, on inflation, that there would be no economic turndown in ten years." As bad as the budget is, Toomey argued, it actually would have been far worse if more realistic projections were used. He was particularly chagrined that there "was not a word about entitlements." As for his constituents, he said, "I'll be shocked if people aren't disturbed and disappointed" by the president's weak effort at fiscal discipline.
He doesn't yet have a sense where the majority of the Republican caucus is with regard to the budget, but from his standpoint the Congress "would produce a budget that gets spending under control." On entitlements, he said it is "unfortunate" that there has been an absence of presidential leadership. So in Toomey's view the Congress is going to have to make efforts on entitlement reform.
Toomey has been front and center in the discussion on the debt ceiling. His view is straightforward. "I just think it is very irresponsible just to vote to raise the ceiling with no conditions." He "couldn't disagree more" with the administration's request that the debt limit simply be raised without getting ourselves on a more fiscally responsible track. He has argued that we can raise the debt limit if "we use the time to make reforms we need." He has introduced a bill to make clear that in the event the debt ceiling isn't raised that the Treasury Department will service the debt first. He made this proposal because "the administration has made an inaccurate and irresponsible argument that there will be a default" if the debt ceiling isn't raised. He explained that the debt ceiling and a default "are two totally different things. One doesn't necessitate the other." In short, he wants to have "an intellectually honest discussion without the false fear of a default" hanging over the heads of lawmakers.
Looking at 2012, Toomey knows personally most of the potential Republican candidates. But he's not about to weigh in on the race. In his view, "the field is wide open. . . [and] there are a number of good candidates," some of whom, he said, aren't yet in the race.
Toomey's eye is clearly on the budget fights ahead. After being a lonely voice for fiscal sobriety in the House and heading an interest group that endorsed and evaluated candidates based on their fiscal track records, the time is now ripe for Toomey to do something about the growth of government that fiscal conservatives have long bemoaned. And the voters -- including many Tea Partyers fed up with business as usual -- will be watching carefully to see if he does.
Posted by: abraham3 | February 20, 2011 11:59 AM | Report abuse