- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

NEW BERLIN, Pa. — Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. prides himself on his independence from national Democrats on hot-button issues such as abortion.

“When people review my record and the way I’ve approached issues, I’ve been independent on a lot of things,” he said in a recent interview with The Washington Times.

But his independence quickly evaporates when it comes to other thorny political issues such as Social Security reform or whether he would have supported the Iraq war resolution.

Asked whether he favored cutting benefits or raising taxes to save Social Security, Mr. Casey repeatedly would not give a direct answer.

“I would do what they did in the 1980s: sit down and have a bipartisan agreement, where both sides sit down and work it out,” he said. “And that could mean a lot of things. You can’t even begin to describe what would happen until these guys in Washington have some kind of real commitment to bipartisanship.”

In the end, the chief financial officer of the sixth most populous state in the country would not offer a single suggestion for Social Security reform.

It is an issue that his opponent, two-term Sen. Rick Santorum, has never shied away from.

Well before President Bush came to Washington, Mr. Santorum proposed creating private accounts with Social Security payments as a way to prohibit the federal government from raiding people’s retirement savings, which is the root cause of the problem.

And although Mr. Casey says he wants to find bipartisan solutions to Social Security problems, he is quick to attack the only idea that is being discussed — Mr. Bush’s “scheme to privatize.”

Mr. Casey said he would discuss Mr. Bush’s proposal “if I thought it was a proposal that was worthy of debate — I thought it was a scheme. There’s an agenda in their party, which is to undo a lot of what the New Deal did. Their idea is that the market should be controlling a lot more of what government is doing now.”

Similarly, Mr. Casey refuses to say whether he would have voted for or against the Senate resolution to go to war in Iraq.

“If we knew then what we knew now, I don’t think there would have been a resolution,” he said.

Mr. Santorum says Mr. Casey steers clear of tough issues and runs on the famous name of his beloved father, who dominated the Pennsylvania political landscape for decades, most notably as governor from 1987 to 1995.

So wary is Mr. Casey that he has avoided any formal debates with Mr. Santorum.

Mr. Santorum has made numerous requests since November for up to 10 debates, according to letters produced by his campaign. One such letter, sent by certified mail postmarked July 13 to Mr. Casey’s campaign manager, was returned July 26 with the word “refused” written across it.

Mr. Casey has rebuffed so many offers to debate that Mr. Santorum’s campaign has taken to sending a man in a duck suit to some Casey events. Mr. Casey’s campaign said yesterday that it is now in talks with Mr. Santorum’s campaign and several television stations to schedule debates.

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