U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey last week told Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce members about three looming showdowns on Capitol Hill that he hopes will change the way Congress looks at spending.
The most immediate is the so-called “sequester.” Unless congressional Democrats and Republicans strike a deal by Friday on taxes and spending issues, there will be $85 billion in cuts to military and domestic programs.
Toomey, speaking at the meeting on Feb. 21 at Wesley Enhanced Living-Pennypack, at 8401 Roosevelt Blvd., said the $85 billion “cut” is actually a slowdown in the rate of growth.
The freshman Republican senator acknowledged being a bit uneasy about the defense cuts.
“It’s a bigger cut than I’m comfortable with,” he said.
Toomey described the terms of the sequester as “modest” spending discipline.
The next battle will come in late March, when Congress considers a continuing resolution, which funds government agencies.
In May, Congress will look at raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Toomey said any increase in the debt ceiling should be tied to a path to a balanced budget.
“I don’t think that’s asking too much,” he said.
Toomey, 51, who lives in the Lehigh Valley, served in the U.S. House from 1999 to 2004. He narrowly lost a Republican primary race for the Senate to Arlen Specter in 2004.
After leaving Congress, he served as president of the Club for Growth before eyeing a rematch with Specter in 2010. Specter, though, switched to the Democratic Party, leaving Toomey an easy path to the GOP nomination.
Toomey never had his rematch with Specter, who lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak. Toomey went on to edge Sestak in the general election.
In the Senate, Toomey has supported efforts to curb spending.
“We are spending way too much money,” he said.
Two bits of good news on the economy, he said, are low interest rates and a stable stock market.
At the same time, Toomey said it’s important to use the sequester, continuing resolution and debt ceiling debates to slowly change the direction in Washington.
“We’re not going to balance the budget overnight,” he said, “but we need to seize this moment.”
Toomey said it’s “maddening” that Senate Democrats have not passed a budget in three years. He introduced a proposed budget in early 2011 that would have led to a balanced budget, but it was not considered by the Democratic majority. Still, he is encouraged by Majority Leader Harry Reid’s recent comments that a budget might be adopted this year.
In his two-plus years in the Senate, Toomey has developed a pretty good working relationship with Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat from Scranton. The two sat together at the recent State of the Union address.
Toomey and Casey worked together to recommend Nitza Quiñones Alejandro, Luis Felipe Restrepo and Jeffrey Schmehl as judicial nominees to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Earlier this month, they introduced the nominees to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Toomey, Casey and the remainder of the local Pennsylvania congressional delegation are united in support of the dredging of the Delaware River. They hope the increased depth of the river entices more ships to the Port of Philadelphia.
On a related matter, Toomey explained that the U.S. Navy will commission the USS Somerset in January 2014. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus will ultimately select a site for the newly built ship. It will be named in honor of the victims of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a Somerset County field on Sept. 11, 2001 after passengers fought with hijackers.
“I want it to be commissioned in Philadelphia,” Toomey said.
In a question-and-answer session, Toomey said sanctions levied by the United States and other nations are having a meaningful impact on Iran’s oil exports. The United Nations Security Council, though, would likely not support an outright ban on oil exports, the senator said. He considers Iran to be “far too dangerous” and is not optimistic that the nation will drop its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
As for the Keystone Pipeline — which would transport crude oil from Canada to destinations in the United States — Toomey faults President Barack Obama for siding with environmentalists in opposing it. Unions favor the pipeline, and Toomey thinks it can be a safe, reliable, North American source of oil.
“It’s a lot of jobs in Pennsylvania,” he said.
In response to a question, Toomey promised to look into suspected fraud and abuse of the Supplemental Security Income program.
After leaving the Chamber event, Toomey toured the Finishing Trades Institute of the Mid-Atlantic Region, at 2190 Hornig Road in the Far Northeast. He then joined state Rep. John Taylor for a tour of the American Cable Company in Juniata.
In other Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce news, the group will testify in City Council on March 5 against a bill that would require businesses to provide paid sick time for employees.
The Chamber will hold a breakfast meeting on April 16 at 8:30 a.m. at Nazareth Hospital. Dr. Richard Mandel will discuss the prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries of the upper body.
The fifth annual Hail to the Chefs will take place on April 29, from 6 to 9 p.m., at Knowlton Mansion, at 8001 Verree Road in Fox Chase.
The Chamber’s annual expo is set for May 8, from 2 to 6 p.m., in the gymnasium of Holy Family University’s Campus Center.
Mayor Michael Nutter has again canceled a scheduled appearance in front of the group. He was unable to make a Jan. 24 commitment and now cannot appear at the rescheduled March 21 date. The Chamber will announce a new date in the near future. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org