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Toomey focuses on fighting for spending cuts
Senator frequently bucks GOP leadership
Question of the Day
He’s the only member who voted against last week’s debt deal, and also the only one who wrote his own individual budget this year — both of which make Sen. Patrick J. Toomey the wild-card selection to the 12-member deficit supercommittee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts by Thanksgiving.
Mr. Toomey is not a chairman or ranking member of any committee, he is not an elected caucus leader, nor does he bring the experience as a former White House budget director that his fellow freshman Republican committeeman, Sen. Rob Portman, carries.
What the first-term Pennsylvanian does have, though, is a long record of fighting for spending cuts — and even leading the charge against his own party during his six years in the House, from 1999 through 2004, when he stepped down to fulfill a term-limits pledge he made to his district.
In between the House and Senate, he served as president of the pro-free-market Club for Growth, which actively sought to put into office economic conservatives who fought for limited government.
“He didn’t run for the Senate because he wanted to be a senator. He didn’t need the cufflinks,” said Chris Chocola, another former member of Congress who took over the helm from Mr. Toomey at the Club for Growth. “He understood the problems we face, and he ran to do something about it.”
Of the other 11 members of the supercommittee, Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, comes closest to Mr. Toomey in willingness to buck his party’s leadership on big tax and spending votes.
But for Mr. Baucus, those moves all came years ago, and he was usually headed toward the political center — he voted for President George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts and his 2003 Medicare prescription drug plan, and in 1995, voted in favor of a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
Mr. Toomey, though, has dissented from his party’s leaders by moving to the right, arguing the deals the GOP’s top brass in Congress struck first with Mr. Bush and later with Mr. Obama spent too much. He voted for the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, but against the prescription drug benefit, against the final 2011 spending bill that averted a government shutdown in April, and against the debt deal earlier this month.
“There were not sufficient reductions in spending that were commensurate to the circumstances we find ourselves in,” he said.
Party leaders don’t seem to mind. They even gave him a national platform Saturday morning, when he delivered the Republican response to the president’s weekly radio address.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund, a liberal lobby group, said Mr. Toomey “firmly believes in the GOP fantasy that tax cuts don’t actually cost anything,” but did praise him for being open to defense spending reductions.
And Mr. Toomey also has signaled a willingness to consider changes to the tax code to do away with special tax breaks. He pointed to his vote earlier this year to end tax subsidies to encourage ethanol production — a move that generally proved more popular among Democrats than Republicans.
“I voted to eliminate that. I think it’s just — it’s really bad policy. And it’s — it’s indefensible,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities in the tax code to make it much more sensible. And to do it in a way that would still encourage economic growth.”
Mr. Toomey was one of last year’s original tea-party-powered candidates, helping chase Sen. Arlen Specter from the Republican Party primary. Mr. Specter ended up losing the Democratic primary to then-Rep. Joe Sestak, whom Mr. Toomey then defeated in November.
In his seven months in office, Mr. Toomey, 49, has spent much of the time on the debt and spending, and was one of just two senators bold enough to write his own budget. When the Senate voted, his budget won backing from 41 other senators — more than any of the other budgets the Senate has considered this year.
In his budget documents, Mr. Toomey placed blame for the government’s poor fiscal health squarely on overspending.
Though he said they needed long-term changes, his budget left Social Security and Medicare largely untouched. Instead, he focused on Medicaid, the federal-state health program for low-income Americans, and called for changing it to a block grant to states, which capped federal spending and then would have given states flexibility to experiment with who they cover, and how.
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About the Author
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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