Toomey: Progress on U.S. Debt Woe Must be Bipartisan - AP
By: MARC LEVY
The Associated Press
Progress on the national debt and looming Medicare and Social Security insolvencies will be more likely if Republicans regain control of the House, Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania's Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, told The Associated Press on Thursday in an extensive interview.
Toomey refused in the interview to take absolute positions on taxes and said every option must remain available to lawmakers who tackle programs such as Social Security and Medicare _ including increasing the retirement age for seniors.
Buy-in from both parties will be needed to reform huge programs, and there's no way one party can ram through the kind of change that the country needs to deal with a record-high debt, he said.
"It probably will happen under divided government, to be honest. When one party has complete control, it's tempting to just ignore the other guys," Toomey said.
But, he continued, "when both parties have a seat at the table, then you sometimes get some real progress. I think that's the environment we could be moving into. I think Republicans are going to make huge gains this fall. And after that happens, hopefully there's an opportunity for real bipartisan progress with President Obama."
Democratic allies of President Barack Obama control both the House and the Senate. But many analysts say a Republican House takeover is possible in the Nov. 2 election.
Toomey predicted a Republican takeover while he demurred on a GOP majority in the Senate.
Toomey, a critic of increasing taxes and expanding government regulations and programs who favors giving businesses more opportunities and a freer hand to operate, is in a close and competitive race with Democrat Joe Sestak for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat.
His calling card is an anti-tax platform in which he advocates spending restraint in Washington.
He opposes the major points of Obama's agenda, including the new federal health care law, an overhaul of banking and Wall Street regulations, and the nearly $800 billion stimulus program, as well as the bailouts that began under President George W. Bush in 2008 _ all polices supported by Sestak.
Toomey said that it is too hypothetical to predict whether, if elected, he would support a bipartisan compromise on the debt, Social Security or Medicare that involves a tax increase.
"The important principles, in my mind, are we have to get spending under control," Toomey said. "That does have to include reforming the entitlement programs, and we have to have very, very strong economic growth."
Asked whether he was unwilling to make a "no-new taxes" pledge, he responded, "Well, look, I mean, we can't fix these problems with tax increases. ... Raising taxes is going to make these problems actually harder to solve."
On Social Security, he said he supports giving younger workers the option of taking a portion of the payroll tax they pay and putting it into a regulated, professionally managed account _ an idea similar to one advanced by Bush that failed after Democrats opposed it as a step toward privatizing the nation's retirement security.
It would cost money up front to finance the transition, but it would help, over the long run, to fix an already unsustainable program that's running deficits, Toomey said.
Raising the retirement age, he said, must be "on the table." But whatever happens to Social Security, people who are retired or are close to retirement must be assured that no changes will affect them, he said.
Asked for ideas on how to provide affordable care to the poor, disabled and elderly through Medicare and Medicaid, Toomey said he is still researching ideas and looking for input.
"I think we ought to approach it with a very open mind; these are huge programs, they're very, very important programs, and you can't do it without a bipartisanship consensus," Toomey said.