RCP Interview With Sen. Pat Toomey

By RealClearPolitics - June 23, 2011

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RCP: Should Social Security be means-tested?

Toomey: Means testing is one idea that probably ought to be on the table, but it's not my first preference. I would refer you to a chapter in my book dedicated to my ideas on Social Security reform.

RCP: On simplifying the tax code, there has been some conservative criticism of those in the Senate who advocated ending the ethanol subsidies that, in doing so, would be a tax increase on farmers. How do you respond to that criticism and are you in favor of ending ethanol subsidies?

Toomey: I'm totally in favor of ending ethanol subsidies. It's a completely indefensible program. First of all, it's the government picking winners and losers. It drives up the cost of corn, which has implications for the rest of agriculture and consumers. It distorts markets. On any level it is an indefensible program. My own view is that when you're using the tax code to basically hand out money, that is a kind of government spending. So, I don't think I'd be guilty of raising taxes in supporting the repeal. I think it's a very badly flawed policy and that's why I supported the Coburn Amendment.

RCP: Tim Pawlenty has come out with what many consider to be a very pro-growth economic plan. Would you support Pawlenty's plan?

Toomey: I haven't had a chance to break down and study every element of his plan, but I am very enthusiastic about the fact that he has made economic growth -- encouraging that growth through tax reform, lowering the top marginal rates, and the abolition of the tax on capital gains -- that he has made it the centerpiece of his campaign is very constructive and very good news. A very important part of our message needs to be our ability to restore economic growth and job creation. Now, [Pawlenty] has established a very ambitious goal of 5 percent economic growth.

RCP: Do you think that's a reasonable goal?

Toomey: If we had really dramatic tax reform, if we got our fiscal house in order, if we reform the big entitlement programs, if we rein in the regulators, and if we expand trade, I think it is entirely possible. You could average that. We could have a wave of innovation and investment that could very well produce something like that and it's a good goal to have.

RCP: Moving briefly to Libya: What do you think U.S. objectives are in intervening there and do you think the administration had problems articulating those objectives?

Toomey: Well, I think the administration has had several problems with this. The worst is the substantive problem: I'm not sure they have a clearly defined goal and it seems it has changed. They decided it was more important to get the permission of the United Nations than it was to get the support of the American people in the form of their elected representatives in Congress.

RCP: Do you think the president is required to get permission from Congress?

Toomey: You know, you can have a lengthy discussion about the constitutionality of the War Powers Act, which even permits the president to engage U.S. military forces without prior congressional approval, but it does require subsequent congressional approval. And at what point does the power to declare war become completely meaningless? The president should have come to Congress, should have spelled out a very clear mission and should have stuck with that. What started off being described as a purely humanitarian mission to prevent people from being killed by Gadhafi's forces, quickly became pretty ambiguous when NATO forces went very much on offense against Gadhafi forces, even in circumstances where they were not threatening civilian populations, and the president came out and said that it is the policy of the United States that Gadhafi has to leave. So, at best there's a very ambiguous mission here. I don't think the president has made a sufficiently compelling case for what America's vital national security interests are and he should have done that prior to engaging and he should have done that with Congress. And he hasn't yet.

RCP: Do you think that the U.S. should follow through on Obama's statements that Gadhafi "must go"? Do you think that there should have been a regime-change objective from the beginning?

Toomey: I have nothing but contempt for Gadhafi. I'm not a Gadhafi supporter in any way. However, it's not clear to me that it's a vital and compelling national security objective of the United States that we ought to use military force to remove him from power. He's not the only unpleasant and unsavory dictator in the world. It raises questions about what are our criteria for removing people by force. Again, I don't think this has been laid out and I don't think it has been answered.

RCP: One question on 2012: One of the candidates you have a bit of history with. Rick Santorum endorsed Arlen Specter, a pro-choice Republican who later became a Democrat, in your 2004 primary race. Do you think that will affect his national relationship with the conservative grass-roots, pro-life communities?

Toomey: I don't know. That was a long time ago. I don't know to which extent people are aware of it or remember it or care.

RCP: You remember it.

Toomey: I certainly do.

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