Interview with Senator Pat Toomey

Interview with Senator Pat Toomey

By Erin Burnett Outfront - August 1, 2012

BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight, Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a member of the super committee, which obviously failed to come up with a deal last summer to save us from this crisis.

I spoke to him just moments ago and started by asking him to respond to Ben Bernanke's very clear statement that Congress is who must act.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I think the problems that affect our economy are not fundamentally monetary in nature. So I'm not in favor of the Fed going through yet another round of what they call quantitative easing, which really is a way of printing money. The Fed's already bought two-thirds of the deficit that we were in last year. I think that's a dangerous policy.

I think the problems are fiscal. That means -- that is to say the government's spending too much money. I think it's a threat of a huge tax increase, that's a real problem that we should address.

And I think it's regulatory. We have an avalanche of new regulations that are preventing job growth.

So I would prefer Congress act. Unfortunately, as you know, we appear to be locked in this gridlock. BURNETT: Definitely, appear to be locked. Just looking at the past couple of weeks, a lot of time has been spent in the House and in the Senate. With each party voting on its tax policy, a tax policy that they know is dead on arrival with the other party, the president's Democrats saying, we're going to vote a plan where everyone who makes over $250,000, the tax rates go back up. Republicans voting for a plan that will keep tax rates lower for everyone.

That's a lot of time wasted, though, isn't it? Because neither one of those blanket points of view are going to prevail?

TOOMEY: Well, that appears to be the case now. But of course, as you know, 44 Democratic senators and the Democratic president of the United States less than two years ago voted to extend all the current tax rates because the president argued at the time, the last thing you want to do is raise taxes in a weak economy.

Well, today we have a still weaker economy. And so, the logic still prevails. And I'm disappointed that the Democrats have done this complete reversal for apparently political motivation, frankly.

I think what we should do is at least one year extension of current rates with instructions to the committees to enact pro-growth tax reform.

BURNETT: Now, the president has, to be fair, he's cut agencies. He has put a lot of things forth on that front. But just assume for a second that the president wins. You end up in the same sort of gridlock that you're in right now. Are you then going to accept that an increase in revenue, i.e., some people paying more taxes than they're paying now, is just inevitable?

You're willing to make that deal as part of a grand bargain?

TOOMEY: You know, I'm not going to negotiate now on the deal for a hypothetical outcome of the election. But if you recall back on the super committee, I was the one that did put revenue on the table, not because revenue is economically or fiscally or mathematically necessary. But it was a huge concession I was willing to make because I know it was politically necessary because the other side is so insistent on raising somebody's taxes.

I hope we can avoid that because it will do damage to the economy. What's broken, what needs to be fixed, our entitlement programs that are out of control. You know, in the last 10 years, federal spending has doubled. We can't continue spending at this pace. That's the problem.

You know, you could double all income taxes overnight and you'd still be running a budget deficit. So, we can't tax our way out of this, we've got to restructure the programs that are broken.

BURNETT: It's a fair point but it does seem to fly in the face of something else you said before, which is you don't want the defense cuts. But that's an area where federal spending has surged, thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're at record levels for defense spending. It's an area that seems ripe for the cutting. And even with the sequestration, we're not cutting as much as George H.W. Bush and about the same as Ronald Reagan did.

How can you say you want cuts in spending and try to fight against the defense cuts?

TOOMEY: First of all, I've supported the premise that the Pentagon budget has to be on the sable. Can't be sacrosanct.

However, but providing for national security is arguably the number one obligation of the federal government. Actually, I think it is.

So what we ought to ask ourselves is what does it cost to execute that mission of providing national security? And whatever that is, that's what we have to pay.

BURNETT: As a matter of principle, when you look at the fiscal 2012 actual spending by the OMB in this country, we spent more on defense than we spent on health care, Medicare and Medicaid. Is that something sort of as a moral question that you think is fair? It would seem that economic security and health security is an important part of what makes a country strong enough to have the defense that we have.

TOOMEY: I kind of would look at it the other way around. Erin, you know, for most of the history of this country, we had a defense budget. We didn't spend anything on those things. They didn't exist because it was always acknowledged from the formation of the country that the first obligation of the federal government is to defend the American people.

BURNETT: Right. But I mean, in terms of the concept that if your economy isn't growing and people aren't better off than their parents were, that you don't have a fundamentally strong homeland economically, what do you have to defend?

TOOMEY: Well, that's a valid point. I mean, ultimately, our national security rests on our economic security.

BURNETT: Senator Toomey, final question, do you have night where you wake up in a cold sweat, worried about your vote on that super committee? Because it was your committee hat has put us in this position.

TOOMEY: And as you know, Erin, I was the one person who put together a comprehensive proposal that included new revenue, which was excruciatingly difficult for me to do, met the Democratic demand for revenue halfway, asked for the most modest spending cut, would have reached our goal of the $1.2 trillion, which was the statutory goal. All the Republicans agreed to support my proposal, despite how difficult that was. And the Democrats walked away from the table.

So I have a clear conscience about the work that I put into the super committee. BURNETT: All right. Senator, thanks very much. Good to see you.

TOOMEY: Thanks for having me. 

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