HH: Pleased to welcome back United States Senator Pat Toomey from the great state of Pennsylvania. Senator, it’s always a pleasure, welcome back.
PT: Thanks for having me, Hugh. How are you?
HH: I’m great. Well, I can’t say I’m great. I’m actually worried about this country. I know you are as well. Last time we talked, it was about the debt ceiling.
HH: And I think it’s been five or six weeks. Nothing has happened in Washington, D.C. It’s as though we’re not in the middle of a fiscal crisis. How frustrated are you?
PT: Oh, I’m beside myself. You know, kicking the can down the road with these short-term funding measures, without having a serious budget, the President really abrogated his responsibility to put a serious plan on the table. I have no expectations that the Senate Democrats, who obviously control the chamber, that they’re going to give us a budget resolution at all, much less a serious one. And you’re right. Meanwhile, we’ve got a crisis going on. So it’s very frustrating.
HH: Are the votes still there to block the debt ceiling increase unless some serious reforms come forward in the Seante, Senator Toomey?
PT: This is a good question, and I don’t know the answer. You know, until we actually put it to a vote, I don’t think we will know. But I think the most irresponsible thing we could do is just raise the debt ceiling and continue with business as usual. This is an unsustainable disaster we’ve got going on, and I think we need to take this moment as the opportunity to fix what’s broken.
HH: Leader McConnell has put out very good signals that the Republicans are coalescing.
PT: Yes, he has.
HH: There are some Democrats as well who are coalescing. But let’s say you got to 41. What do you think the President has to put on the table in order for you to come forward? What’s the beginning point he needs to show?
PT: There’s two things that we’ve been talking a lot about within the Republican conference. I can’t say that we have universal agreement on these, but I do think there’s broad support for the idea that we ought to have a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, that limits spending as a percentage of our economy, and requires a supermajority vote to raise taxes. And I think that’s the best straightjacket that we could have for the federal government. But we all know that it’s very hard to get something through both houses with 67% of the vote, and through three-quarters of the state legislatures, which is what’s necessary to amend the Constitution. So simultaneous to that, I think we need statutory spending caps, where we establish in law limits to how much can be spent, and a mechanism that makes automatic cuts if the government exceeds those limits. Now that’s not a perfect solution, because anything that the law can be suspended by a new law. But it does at least establish a minimum of a 60 vote threshold in the Senate, because any one of us could force a 60 vote majority in order to suspend it. So that’s what I think we need as a minimum.
HH: That is sort of an updated version of Gramm-Rudman, and there were some Constitutional problems with Gramm-Rudman, which I’m sure your drafters can overcome. But it’s also something, it’s, even compared to a Constitutional amendment, it’s quick, but it’s still slow. What about the actual 60 signature letter that went to the President about Social Security reform, and actually putting something on the table about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?
PT: Well, I think we should do that, by all means, and I have been advocating for some fundamental reforms, for instance, with Medicaid. This is the fastest growing of the entitlement programs. It is driving states into bankruptcy as it is creating a huge problem for the federal government. And it’s all driven by the fact that the federal government mandates all kinds of coverage with this arrogant notion that only Washington knows how to provide health care for poor people. So I think what we ought to do is bloc grant the funds to the states, and let states decide. Let the 50 states develop their own systems, their own process, mechanism, procedure, qualifications. And you know, it was, welfare reform began at the state level. And some really, really constructive ideas emerged, and enabled us to change the whole system. So that’s one of the things that I think we ought to do for Medicaid. I don’t know what kind of support, if any, we’ll get from the other side of the aisle. And you know, the President has chosen not to provide any leadership on this, so it’s frustrating.
HH: I am talking with United States Senator Pat Toomey from the state of Pennsylvania. Senator, the President has not provided leadership on Libya, either. In fact, today on his press conference, or his interview on CNN from Air Force One flying back, he began to introduce the foreign policy equivalent of jobs saved or created by talking about lives not lost in Benghazi, you know, a mythical standard by which to measure success. Are you worried that he just doesn’t have any idea what he’s doing?
PT: Well, I think there have been a number of very misguided policies. And you know, when I think about some of the big signature pieces of legislation that he signed, whether it’s the health care bill or the Dodd-Frank overhaul, and my goodness, some of the regulatory things coming out of these agencies, one thing they clearly don’t have a grasp of is the unintended consequences of these massive legislative and regulatory pushes. I mean, I think Dodd-Frank is going to put an enormous number of community banks out of business. It’s just not feasible for small banks to be able to afford the compliance costs that this is imposing. You know, you have the EPA trying to impose cap and trade through the back door, despite the obvious legislative opposition in Congress. They just want to do it by regulation, and this will be devastating to every major industrial industry in America, really devastating to Pennsylvania. So you know, time and again, I just see these guys pursuing an ideological agenda that is well to the left of the American mainstream, and very damaging to our economy.
HH: Well then, do you look to your colleagues in your old house, the House of Representatives, and I know there’s comity and you don’t like to criticize them, but these are troubling times. Do they need to stand tall here and not blink, because it looks to me like the Republicans are folding their tents and preparing to move away, McClellan-like, from the front lines.
PT: Well, I’m hopeful that they’re going to hang tough here. You know, I think they did a good job of hanging in there, and in fact, some of the news guys insisting on deeper budget cuts in the continuing resolution. I’m sure you remember when the first pass, the cuts were really very modest, and they insisted that the appropriators go back to the drawing board, and to make some reasonably meaningful cuts. They’re still very modest, if you ask me. But you know, this, by my reckoning, is the second time in forty years that the federal government has cut anything of any significance. So that’s progress. I’m hoping these guys will hang tough. I really think the voters want us to be serious and aggressive about fixing the fiscal mess we’re in.
HH: All right, you were there in 1995, were you not, [Senator]?
PT: No, I was first elected in ’98.
HH: Okay, so you came in after the big shutdown. 30 seconds, ought we to be that afraid of shutting down the government like the House Republicans appear to be?
PT: I think it’s worse to continue spending as usual. This is an unsustainable path, and if we signal to the world that we’ll never tolerate a shutdown, then what leverage do we have to fix it?
HH: Senator Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, thank you, Senator.
End of interview.