Pennsylvania’s Toomey And Schwartz Have Key Roles In National Budget Debate

Philadelphia Inquirer

In the final days of the presidential campaign, you saw them everywhere.

Sen. Pat Toomey stood on stage with Mitt Romney at a massive Bucks County rally last Sunday. U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, a Democrat from Montgomery County, zipped across the region for news conferences to combat the Republicans’ late Keystone State offensive.

Toomey and Schwartz were among Romney’s and President Obama’s most prominent surrogates in Pennsylvania, but their positions as leading advocates didn’t end with the election. Each will remain in the spotlight as Washington turns its attention to a critical debate on taxes, spending, and the budget, starting when lawmakers return Tuesday.

Toomey, 50, is one of the most knowledgeable and outspoken Senate Republicans on fiscal issues; in recent days he was quoted in the New York Times and Washington Post on the “fiscal cliff.” Schwartz, 64, doesn’t have the same national profile, but has built an increasingly muscular role in the House.

In Washington, they are Pennsylvania’s most visible figures on the budget issues about to consume the national debate.

“They both get policy and politics, and they both can articulate them,” said Daniel McElhatton, a Democratic consultant and former chief of staff for Schwartz.

They someday could also face off more directly, if Schwartz decides to take another run at the Senate.

That Toomey and Schwartz have built their legislative work on fiscal issues played perfectly into an election centered on the economy. Toomey held press calls and rallies across Pennsylvania, traveled to Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin on Romney’s behalf, and introduced the GOP nominee in Bucks the Sunday before the election.

“We’re out here freezing for a reason,” he told the crowd of 25,000 as temperatures plunged.

A former leader of the conservative Club for Growth, Wall Street derivatives trader, and restaurant owner, Toomey embodied Romney’s belief in lower taxes, less regulation, and growth through the private sector.

Federal spending, he argues, is unsustainable, and deficits that now exceed $1 trillion a year must be curtailed.

“I’ve long argued that the optimal way to do that is not by raising taxes on anybody,” he said Thursday in an interview. “Unfortunately, the Democrats have created a political imperative for themselves – they won’t do anything unless there’s a tax increase involved.”

Toomey served three terms in the House before riding to the Senate on the tea party wave of 2010, campaigning as a champion of limited government and private enterprise.

“A big part of the reason why I ran is because I think the economy is a complete disaster; our economy is way below its potential,” he said. “I think Pennsylvania citizens want me to be focused on economic growth and restoring a sustainable budget.”

In the calcified world of the Senate, the Lehigh County resident has risen quickly. Like Paul Ryan in the House, Toomey wins plaudits for his fluency in policy and his ability to articulate a conservative plan without the eye-bulging anger of some of his contemporaries.

“Pat Toomey is not Rick Santorum,” McElhatton said.

He has “a mastery of fiscal and budget matters,” said political scientist G. Terry Madonna at Franklin and Marshall College. “And he comes across as non-polarizing.”

Toomey was one of 12 lawmakers named to the 2011 “supercommittee” that unsuccessfully tried to cut the deficit. He sits on the Senate Budget Committee and in September became chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, a caucus of conservatives.

He has drawn up his own budget and deficit-reduction plans and in July presented his strong views to the liberal Brookings Institution. He called for lowering income tax rates but raising revenue by placing a hard cap on deductions – closing what some call tax loopholes – to bring in more money from the wealthy without increasing rates.

Romney pitched a similar idea, as has House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) since the election.

Obama campaigned on raising taxes on those earning $250,000 and up, and while he said Friday that he is open to compromise, a spokesman said the president would veto an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy – effectively pointing to rate increases, not just closing loopholes, as the path to more revenue.

That was the same point Schwartz hammered home in October at an event hosted by National Journal, where she went round-for-round with Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, the House GOP’s deputy whip.

“If the plan is to reduce taxes for the wealthiest and hope for economic growth, you may have noticed we did that for 10 years, and it got us into a kind of mess,” Schwartz said then.

As an Obama campaign surrogate in Pennsylvania, she was perhaps second only to Mayor Nutter. As the No. 2 Democrat on the House Budget Committee, she knows Ryan and his policies, giving her the ability to hit back for Democrats. Schwartz was a regular at news conferences and spoke about Medicare at the Democratic National Convention. The only woman in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, she represents a key piece of Democrats’ electoral coalition.

When Republicans made their late foray into Pennsylvania, Schwartz took a lead role in Democratic events countering a Ryan rally Nov. 3 and the Romney appearance in Bucks. Hours before the polls opened, she introduced Bill Clinton at Montgomery County Community College as part of his last-minute tour for Obama.

“The budget is the way we begin the conversation about what our priorities are and our values,” Schwartz, a former health care executive, said in an interview. “It tells you about what the government can do, who it stands up for.”

Schwartz is often cited as a rising lawmaker to watch. She was one of five House Democrats on a committee that negotiated an extension of a payroll tax cut this year, and as Congress reshuffles, she may regain a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax policy.

Any major budget deal would depend on talks at the top of the political ladder: the president and leaders of the Senate and House. Lawmakers such as Toomey and Schwartz, though, can help craft details that go into an agreement as they keep making their parties’ case to the public.

Their paths may also cross more contentiously at home. Schwartz, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2000, finishing second in a five-way Democratic primary, is often mentioned as a possible statewide candidate. She has built a formidable $3 million campaign fund.

Aside from seeking her party’s nomination for governor in 2014, a run against Toomey in 2016 would be her next chance at a larger platform.

“We’re going to take it one step at a time,” Schwartz said, declining to discuss the possibility.

The first step will be her and Toomey fighting for their philosophies in a debate about to envelop Washington, Pennsylvania, and the nation.

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