Interview with Senator Pat Toomey

Interview with Senator Pat Toomey

By John King, USA - February 13, 2012

KING: Let's discuss the road ahead with freshman GOP Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who made slashing spending and deficits a central point of his 2010 election campaign.

Senator, it's good to see you.

You look at this document, it's an election year document. Republicans don't like it. At the White House, they say, can you blame us? Anything we do in this environment would be overpoliticized.

Where is the circuit breaker?

TOOMEY: Well, I would say, where is the leadership?

The president of the United States has an obligation to provide some leadership. If you ask me, there are two primary objectives that everyone in Washington should be pursuing. One is policies that maximize economic growth, so we can get this fragile economy moving. And the second is to put us on a sustainable fiscal path, because we're not on that path now.

In fact, we're on a disastrous path. This budget fails on both counts. Massive tax increases such as the president has proposed in a variety of ways can only be harmful to the economy. And his complete unwillingness to address what he himself has acknowledged is the driver of our deficits long-term, the big entitlement programs, especially health care, this is a terrible abdication of leadership.

KING: Well, let's not look back. I think we could assign blame to both parties if we look back at how we got to this point.

As we are where we are now, is there any way to do anything, to get anything done between now and the election, or are we just treading water until we find out the verdict of the American people in November?

TOOMEY: I certainly hope we can get something accomplished. But it's getting harder and harder to be optimistic about this.

I was on the super committee. I made a proposal that was outside of my comfort zone to try to find a way to find the common ground to reduce these deficits, to put us on a sustainable path, was not met with a receptive ear on the other side of the table. The president's abdicating his leadership here.

What I worry, John, is that there will be some exogenous event, a financial crisis, spooked bond markets, or something really unpleasant that would force us. I hope we don't have to wait for that.

KING: At this time of divided government, what is the circuit breaker?

Let me say this, for example. If the president were to win reelection, I know you oppose the tax increases he calls for here. The White House would say the rich should pay their fair share. The White House would say at least the polling shows the American people are on their side. Set that aside. If the president wins reelection in January, would Republicans say, you won fair and square, sir, we will raise taxes on wealthy Americans now?

TOOMEY: First of all, most Americans don't think that people should be paying 40 percent of their income in taxes, which is what the president wants to take us to.

Look, I think -- I'm not going to support policies that are going to weaken our economy and that will put more people out of work, prevent the kind of growth that we need. You can do the math. Any way you do it, you cannot solve this problem by raising taxes.

The big health care entitlement programs are growing at three and four times the rate our economy is growing. They will consume the entire economy in time. So tax increases don't solve the problem. What will solve it is a structural reform of these programs, make them viable, make them viable for a future generation.

But, you know, we can't continue pretending that this is going to go on forever. It's certainly not.

KING: But in this public environment, can we keep sticking to an environment where both sides refuse to budge on some big things? You know the president's case. He says give me higher taxes on wealthy Americans and I will sit down at the table with you and we will talk about perhaps deeper cuts in Medicare, for example, than my party would like.

Will there ever be a tradeoff or are we just going to fight this thing forever?

TOOMEY: As I said, I offered a proposal, a framework within the super committee that would have addressed -- that would have put more revenue on the table, more than I thought we should have to agree to, more than I think is necessary, in return for some really modest changes in the entitlement side of the equation.

And we couldn't get that done. I think we have demonstrated a willingness to be flexible. I certainly have. But the president has never put on the table an actual proposal that even begins to significantly bend the curves. He's OK with arbitrarily cutting back on health care providers, hospitals, doctors.

We have done an awful lot of that. We're already losing access to quality health care. We can't go down that road. We have got to the change the architecture of these programs, and he really ought to show some leadership here.

KING: Senator Toomey, appreciate your help today.

TOOMEY: Thanks for having me.

KING: Take care, sir. 

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John King, USA

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