TOOMEY THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE TIMES
By Kevin Ferris
The first time I sat down with Pat Toomey he was talking about — what else? — government spending that was way out of control, tax rates that were hurting people and businesses, and the debt we would be passing on to our children and grandchildren.
Such reckless federal policies, he warned over lunch at the Vietnam restaurant in Center City, would lead to a new majority in Congress. He was the first Republican I heard predict that the political winds were shifting.
That conversation could have happened at any point in the last year or so, as Toomey has campaigned for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Arlen Specter. But it actually took place in the spring of 2006, right after primary voters angry about the midnight pay raise had ousted several GOP state lawmakers. Republicans in Washington were next, Toomey predicted.
During his six years in Congress, from 1999 to 2005, Toomey frequently warned his party about irresponsible spending, high taxes, and earmarks. At one point he annoyed the GOP leadership by drafting an alternate budget.
He challenged the party again in 2004, making fiscal responsibility the cornerstone of his primary race against then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter. The party had to bring out the heavy hitters, including President George W. Bush and Sen. Rick Santorum, to eke out a win for Specter.
By the time I met Toomey he was president of the Club for Growth, a group that takes low taxes, balanced budgets, and economic growth so seriously that talking to them is likely a firing offense at NPR.
Though the war in Iraq was the dominant issue of ’06, Republicans’ bad spending habits gave voters across the political spectrum a reason to listen to anyone preaching fiscal responsibility.
One of those voters was small-business owner Steven Welch. Though a longtime Republican, Welch hosted a gathering in his living room for Democrat Joe Sestak, who was challenging U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon in the Seventh District.
“I was frustrated that Republicans hadn’t lived up to their principles,” Welch told me last week.
Sestak talked about getting the size of government under control. In response to an Inquirer questionnaire that year he wrote, “I will work to restore budget discipline, reform the tax code to spur job creation, reduce the national debt.”
Welch was sold, even switching parties, but Congressman Sestak proved to be a disappointment.
“His actions have not matched his words in any way, shape, or form,” Welch says. “Take any government program, and not only is he for it but he says it needs to be bigger.”