- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006


The following are excerpts of reporter Charles Hurt’s recent interview with Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican:

Question: You are the No. 3 Republican in the Republican-controlled Senate, which passed an immigration bill that would grant amnesty to some 10 million illegal aliens. Why shouldn’t you be blamed for its passage?

Answer: The majority of Republicans did not [support the bill.] The majority of Republicans did not, and I was in that majority.

Q: Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House. Why shouldn’t Republicans be blamed for not passing an immigration reform bill with tough border security?

A: Unlike the House, which can control through the Rules Committee what amendments are offered, in the Senate, we can’t do that. We were successful in making sure a horrific bill did not pass. In the Senate, when a major piece of legislation comes forward, you vote on it and you vote on amendments. A supermajority supported this bill.

If we had those votes again today, I’m not too sure that would be the case.

Q: How would you rate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s handling of the immigration bill?

A: I didn’t agree with a lot of his votes, although I think he voted with me most of the time. We had to deal with this issue. The president of your party is saying you’ve got to do it and the other side says you’ve got to do it and there’s a supermajority to do it, you have no choice but to do it. I don’t know how else you could’ve handled it.

Q: Given the country’s financial straits from the Iraq war to the pending collapse of Social Security is $500,000 for a polar bear exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo really a wise investment for federal taxpayers?

A: I’ve been a strong believer of lean budgets, and I vote for them. I vote for every tough budget there is. I vote against the vast majority of the spending increases that are being proposed. If the United States government were run on my voting record, our deficits would be a lot lower than they are today.

That does not mean that I don’t think Congress doesn’t have prerogative to direct certain amounts of spending when it comes to spending in your state. I don’t accept the fact that the bureau knows better than we do about how to spend all the resources.

Q: You are one of the highest ranking Republicans in Washington. Why don’t you change that culture of spending?

A: I am not an advocate for eliminating that sort of spending. I think a lot of those categories are very worthwhile, that the federal government has a role.

There are areas that I would agree we can and should eliminate spending. In the last budget, we eliminated 21 programs and severely reduced 97 others. We’re going though the same process of doing that now. I am for making the government smaller, but my point is, in the areas that we are spending money, I believe Congress should have a say in where that money goes.

Q: But aren’t you saying that paying for the polar bear park takes priority over lowering the deficit or the federal government’s other pressing needs?

A: In this case, the money was for educational programming around that facility. The federal government does finance educational programming with respect to biology and zoology and a whole host of areas that we think are important for our children. Is that an important thing? Well, you know, yeah, it probably is. Do we spend too much on it? Let’s just put it this way, if someone proposed to eliminate it, you know, I very well might vote for it. But if the pot of money is there, I’m going to make sure we get a piece of that money.

If you can keep a lid on the overall domestic discretionary spending pie — and we have in the last two budgets — then what you make the Congress do is set priorities. Earmarked programs are a lot smaller than they’ve been in a long time, and they’re going to get smaller. Why? Because they’re getting squeezed by higher-priority programs.

The key is, ‘keep your eye on the ball.’ And the eye on the ball is the top line. If you control the top line and you keep that flat or below the rate of inflation, you’re going to see changes in the way government spends money. If you keep focused on earmarks, in my opinion, you’re chasing your tail. They’re such a small piece of the overall pie.

Q: But don’t your supporters find this spending

A: They find it offensive, sure. They find it offensive unless it’s something they want to spend the money on. Then they don’t find it so offensive. Some of the most conservative guys I run into, they say, ‘Hey, this program is a really good program. You got to make sure it’s funded.’

I always say to conservatives, if they keep focusing on making sure that Congress’ discretionary spending pie is growing at or below the rate of inflation, that’s a great focal point.

But, to be honest with you, the biggest problem that we’re confronting in Washington is not discretionary spending programs, they’re entitlement programs. You talk to fiscal conservatives and they say, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t touch Medicare,’ particularly if they’re a senior. Now they’ll be happy to touch Medicaid [for the poor] because most of them don’t participate in Medicaid.

It’s not as easy as you think.

Q: Bob Casey Jr. accuses you of voting three times to raise your pay while opposing efforts to raise the minimum wage. How do you respond to that?

A: In the 16 years that I have been in office, I think I have voted three times for three cost-of-living adjustments. I don’t know too many people who over a 16-year period of time have only asked for three 2-percent cost-of-living adjustments.

I believe that members of Congress should, by and large, receive cost-of-living adjustments. If we’d left the salary what it was when I first took office, we’d be getting a third of the value of the dollar than I got when I came in. Should members of Congress lose money to inflation year after year? If that happens, then what Congress has to do is eventually change their salary, give a big increase, which everyone will scream and holler about. The way to avoid that was to give a cost-of-living increase, which I believe every year is less than what the Social Security cost-of-living increase is.

If Mr. Casey is saying that he would not accept any cost-of-living increases for as long as he’s in the U.S. Senate, let me just put it this way: He hasn’t done that as a public official in any other job he has had. H has always taken his cost-of-living increase.

This is a guy who is at the height of hypocrisy. This is a man who when this huge pay raise actually did go in effect in [the Pennsylvania legislature], he had the opportunity as state treasurer to stand up and say, “What they did was unconstitutional.” In fact, there’s a lawsuit now claiming that what they did do was unconstitutional. And guess what, he joined the lawsuit. Yet, when he had the opportunity to stand up as state treasurer before he issued those checks, he didn’t do that. He signed the checks. After this became a political hot potato, he decided to join the other side and say, “Oh, this is unconstitutional.”

That is the kind of cowardice that we cannot afford in elective office. We don’t want someone who’s just going to go up and do what’s easy, blow whichever way the wind blows and not have the courage of your convictions. You may not agree with me, but I will tell you, I have the courage to stand up and say this is wrong.

Q: Some conservatives in the state haven’t forgiven you for supporting Sen. Arlen Specter, the liberal Republican from Pennsylvania, over conservative Pat Toomey in the 2004 Republican primary. What do you say to those voters?

A: We had a 51-49 United States Senate, and every seat mattered. It was an election cycle where the president was hardly running from great, high popularity numbers. It was important, I thought, for the president to have someone strong on the ticket. I thought it was important for us to keep this seat. I knew that Arlen in a general election could easily win the seat, which, of course, he did.

I also put into consideration the resources we would have to commit as a party to elect someone other than Arlen to that seat. I don’t think we spent a penny here in Pennsylvania in the general for Arlen Specter. Not a cent. Had Pat Toomey been the nominee and had we decided to spend that money, it would have been millions of dollars, which we would not have spent in Louisiana, we would not have spent in Oklahoma, we would not have spent in South Carolina or South Dakota. I could go on down the list. We ended up with 55 Republican senators because we didn’t have to spend money in Pennsylvania.

I ask my friends, how many voters do you really think are out there that were Kerry-Toomey voters? How many Kerry-Toomey voters are there out there? Pat would have been running to the right of the president. It was a decision that was made that I believe was in the best interest of the causes I believed in.

Q: How will Specter help you?

A: He has raised some money for me. He’s certainly been willing to engage his supporters. He has obviously been very vocally and publicly for me. He has done virtually anything I’ve asked him to do.

Q: How will you use President Bush?

A: The president isn’t going around doing campaign rallies for people. He’s going around doing what Bill Clinton did and what his father did. What a president is best at doing for a candidate is one thing: raising money. When you have the president at an event, people will pay money to go see him. We’ve had him up here twice to raise money for me. Hopefully, he’ll come up one more time to help me out and raise some more money.

Q: Wouldn’t you use him more if his poll numbers weren’t so low?

A: There’s not a lot of value in having someone come up and endorse you. We haven’t done a whole lot of endorsement rallies in this campaign. In fact, have we done any? A couple of sort of minor ones. We did one with Pat Toomey, but that was specific.

Q: How are things between you and Mr. Toomey?

A: I think they’re fine. He came out and he supported me. He has been very vocal in trying to get his supporters to be helpful.



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