The GOP’s Mr. Demeanor

John Baer
Philadelphia Inquirer

THE LONGER the insanity (doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result) plays out in Washington, the saner Pat Toomey sounds.

And as the freshman Republican in his third Senate year emerges as a leading voice on money matters, the better he looks.


Toomey is controlled, concise and sounds sensible. Contrast that with the angry-older-GOP of Mitch McConnell, John McCain and John Boehner.

It’s a contrast.

With multiple polls putting congressional Republicans’ job-approval ratings at 19 to 25 percent and President Obama’s at 49 to 55 percent, it’s a contrast Republicans should note.

And few are positioned as well as Toomey to lead his party on economic issues.


He serves on the four Senate committees – Finance, Banking, Budget and Joint Economic – most focused on taxes and spending.

He was a member of the 2011 “supercommittee” on deficit reduction, where he stood out for willingness to compromise by offering revenue increases.

Last year, he was elected chairman of the Senate Republican Steering Committee.

Now he’s a voice for solutions on automatic spending cuts, or sequestration, that seem downright centrist and pragmatic.

Remember, he lost his first Senate bid in the 2004 primary after then-incumbent Arlen Specter said, “He’s not far right, he’s far-out.”

Is Toomey changed? Or is the “far right” of 2004 closer to the middle of 2013?

Historian Hal Gullan, author of Toomey’s Triumph, an inside-access book on Toomey’s 2010 win against Joe Sestak, says of Toomey: “He is far right except he doesn’t sound too far right.”

Adds Gullan, “It’s his demeanor. He seems reasonable. He’s highly intelligent. . . . he’d be a better spokesman for the GOP.”

It seems he’s working in that direction.

Last week, Toomey offered legislation giving the president and federal agencies authority to select where $85 billion in cuts occur, rather than across the board as sequestration calls for.

“Let’s look for the programs that are working least-well or not at all, look for areas where there is waste and inefficiencies. . . . That’s what any competent manager in any business would do; that’s what families have to do; that’s what state and local governments have to do; that’s what we need to do here,” Toomey said on the Senate floor.

Hard to argue (unless you’re the president) that you can’t cut 2.3 percent from a $3.7 trillion budget.

How about less foreign aid or fewer corporate subsidies? Or examples offered by Toomey?

His office cites Government Accountability Office data on duplicative programs begging for consolidation: 160 housing-assistance programs; 80 economic- development programs; 15 financial literacy programs; and 47 job-training programs.

Suspect spending includes $1.5 billion for free cellphones, $200 million in subsidies for rural airfare and $1 million to taste-test food to serve on Mars.

I tracked these down. They’re true. Except the Wall Street Journal reports $2.2 billion spent last year on phones for low-income citizens, many who haven’t proved eligibility.

Still, Toomey says the Senate voted down his bill because of White House pressure and a threatened veto: “The president has a political strategy, and he wants more spending.”

That strategy, says Toomey, is to get Republicans to cave, create “a civil war” in the party and demoralize GOP voters to improve Democrats’ chances of winning the House next year.

The White House insists its sole interest is a “balanced” cuts/revenue approach.

When I asked if he thinks Obama’s “strategy” can work, Toomey says, “I suppose it’s possible.” When I asked what the Republican strategy is, he says, “The truth is a pretty good strategy, and the truth is we have to cut spending.”

Two final points on Toomey.

His “demeanor factor” shows up subtly in polls. At a time incumbents not named Chris Christie get disapproval or unfavorable ratings in the 30 percent range and often higher, Toomey’s “disapprove” numbers don’t leave the 20 percent range. Also, he supports term limits. He has a bill pending: three House terms, two in the Senate. He already served three House terms and says “it’s very unlikely” he’d serve more than two Senate terms.

That still leaves time and opportunity to move farther up the GOP ladder and be more of a force in fiscal debates — however recurrent, however maddening they continue to be.

Read more: