Republicans, projected to make big gains in Congress in November, could quickly find themselves on the outs with voters if they don’t practice what they preach, Senate candidate Pat Toomey said Friday.
"The Republican brand is still badly tarnished," Toomey, a former Lehigh Valley
congressman, said during an interview with Tribune-Review editors and reporters.
"Republicans had better live up to the principles they’ve run on."
A shaky economy, distrust of sweeping Democratic initiatives such as the health care overhaul, huge federal debt and a rising tide of voter discontent signal the time has come for conservative governance, Toomey said. That includes ideas that fell flat a few years earlier, such as allowing workers to put Social Security taxes into private accounts.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that beginning in 2039, the Social
Security Administration will not have enough money to pay benefits promised to
"I think we’re at a point where people realize we have to do something pretty
dramatic," Toomey said. President Bush failed to push through a similar plan, but the country’s mood changed, Toomey said. "I think across the country guys like me are going to get elected to Congress."
Allowing Social Security funds to be invested in the stock market threatens
individual retirements, said April Mellody, spokeswoman for Toomey’s opponent, Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Delaware.
"Private accounts are a threat. Putting our retirement security in the stock market is a risky bet, and we’ve seen what can happen to stock market investments over the past few years," Mellody said.
Toomey contends that over the long term, investments in the stock market yield
greater returns than the Social Security trust fund, because the stock market grows with the economy.
A Gallup poll released yesterday showed 44 percent of people favor extending the
2001 and 2003 tax cuts only for those making less than $250,000 a year. Thirty-seven percent said the tax cuts should be extended for everyone, and 15 percent said they should be allowed to expire for everyone. Toomey sides with the 37 percent, saying tax cuts spur economic growth and, as a result, more tax revenue.
"Lower taxes generates growth," Toomey said. "It’s not a mystery. It’s not a fluke.
It happens consistently."
Mellody said tax cuts should be focused on the middle class.
"Congressman Toomey likes to pretend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans will
create a strong economy, but that theory has been proven false. Joe believes we need to start investing in the real engines of economic growth — small businesses and the middle class," Mellody said.
President Obama’s proposal to give a permanent tax credit for research and
development investment won praise from Toomey, a former investment banker,
restaurant owner and vociferous free-market advocate.
"I’m for that, and I commend the president," Toomey said. He qualified his praise, saying the plan was "an implicit acknowledgement that what they’re doing hasn’t been working."
Gov. Ed Rendell’s attempt to put tolls on Interstate 80 would have hurt businesses, Toomey said, but the state gets more pass-through traffic than any other. It deserves "a disproportionate share of federal infrastructure spending," he said.
Rejection of tolls blew a $472 million hole in the state’s transportation funding plan, and lawmakers don’t know how they’ll fill it.
Although Toomey supports using tolls to pay for new roads, the companies that grew up around I-80 have business plans that count on free access to the highway, he said.
He called congressional earmarks "the currency used to buy votes. … If you ask for an earmark in Washington and you get it, you have to vote for" the bill, no matter what else is in it. Toomey, who served in Congress from 1999 to 2005, said he never voted for a bill just because it contained one of his earmarks.
"I wasn’t going to be held hostage by some little piece of pork," Toomey said.
Toomey requested earmarks during his first term — including $3 million for a
company in his district, employees of which became his largest bloc of donors that year — but stopped because he came to believe earmarks corrupt the legislative process, he said. Lawmakers could request earmarks anonymously until 2009.
Sestak, who has posted his earmark requests online since 2006, accused Toomey of
"hiding" other requests, a charge Toomey denies.
Internationally, Toomey said Iran and its nuclear program represent the greatest
immediate threat to U.S. security. He predicted China would emerge as the greatest long-term security challenge as it develops a deep-water navy able to rival the American presence in the Western Pacific.
Sestak, a former three-star admiral and deputy chief of naval operations, added to that list "the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications" as
crumbling economies increase the possibility of unrest and instability abroad.