Talking with Toomey


When U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey vis­ited the Times’ of­fices last Fri­day, he iden­ti­fied Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar weapons pro­gram as the top in­ter­na­tion­al is­sue fa­cing Amer­ica.

Toomey ex­plained that eco­nom­ic sanc­tions im­posed by the United States, the United Na­tions and the European Uni­on are hurt­ing Ir­an, and that many cit­izens aren’t happy with new Pres­id­ent Has­san Rouh­ani.

The Re­pub­lic­an was skep­tic­al of eas­ing sanc­tions.

“I think that’s a very bad idea,” he said Fri­day.

In fact, Toomey called for more sanc­tions to per­suade Ir­an to aban­don its nuc­le­ar pro­gram. After Thanks­giv­ing, he was hop­ing the Sen­ate and House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives would vote on a meas­ure to strengthen sanc­tions.

“We’ll win that vote,” he pre­dicted Fri­day.

Of course, one day later, the United States and Ir­an an­nounced a deal that would ease sanc­tions in ex­change for Ir­an agree­ing to sus­pend and stop ex­pand­ing part of its nuc­le­ar pro­gram.

Mem­bers of Con­gress, in­clud­ing Demo­crats, cri­ti­cized the deal struck by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu re­ferred to the so-called his­tor­ic agree­ment as a “his­tor­ic mis­take.”

On Monday, Toomey said the risks of the deal are far great­er than the likely be­ne­fits. He noted that Ir­an does not have to halt con­struc­tion, nor des­troy, its nuc­le­ar fa­cil­ity at Arak. He also poin­ted out that Ir­an does not have to sus­pend its urani­um en­rich­ment activ­it­ies.

“Des­pite the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ob­jec­tions, I think the Con­gress should vote for tough­er sanc­tions as soon as pos­sible,” Toomey said Monday.

Oth­er is­sues Toomey dis­cussed dur­ing his vis­it on Fri­day in­cluded the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Obama­care, in Toomey’s view, dis­cour­ages job cre­ation. He ex­pects premi­ums to in­crease in price dra­mat­ic­ally as older and less healthy people en­roll in great­er num­bers than young­er and health­i­er people.

People hav­ing trouble ac­cess­ing the web­site to en­roll is the least of the prob­lems, he said, point­ing out that 5 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans have had their private health in­sur­ance policies can­celed.

“They like their cov­er­age and they can’t keep their cov­er­age,” he said. “It’s out­rageous.”

Toomey cri­ti­cized Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, a Nevada Demo­crat, for musc­ling through the so-called “nuc­le­ar op­tion,” an eas­ing of fili­buster rules that would re­quire only 51 votes, not 60, to con­firm ex­ec­ut­ive and ju­di­cial nom­in­ees. Three Demo­crats joined all Re­pub­lic­ans in op­pos­ing the meas­ure.

“It was a sad day for the coun­try,” Toomey said.

Toomey in­sisted that the change was not needed, not­ing that the Sen­ate has con­firmed 99.8 per­cent of Obama’s nom­in­ees. The law­maker said great­er con­sensus is bet­ter than get­ting a mere 51 votes, adding that he ex­pects the change to lead to “more po­lar­iz­a­tion and less co­oper­a­tion,” not to men­tion ex­tremely lib­er­al ju­di­cial nom­in­ees.

“That’s how we got Obama­care,” he said.

In terms of the eco­nomy, Toomey wants to see a re­turn to an un­em­ploy­ment rate of un­der 5 per­cent, with rising salar­ies for work­ers and mul­tiple job of­fers for new col­lege gradu­ates.

“That’s a nor­mal, healthy, ex­pand­ing eco­nomy,” he said.

Toomey sees the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment hold­ing back an eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery, point­ing to man­dates and reg­u­la­tions im­posed on busi­nesses by the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency and oth­er en­tit­ies.

The sen­at­or also noted the 2.3-per­cent tax on the sale of med­ic­al devices that is part of Obama­care. The tax has a stifling ef­fect on growth, he ar­gued, adding that south­east­ern and south­west­ern Pennsylvania are hubs of pro­duc­tion of med­ic­al devices, from pace­makers to ar­ti­fi­cial hip joints to sur­gic­al tools.

The le­gis­lat­or is call­ing for a re­peal of that pro­vi­sion of Obama­care.

“We don’t have the votes to re­peal the whole thing,” he said.

Re­mem­ber the 16-day par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down that star­ted on Oct. 1 and ended only when Con­gress fi­nally agreed with Obama to raise the debt ceil­ing? Well, au­thor­ized spend­ing levels ex­pire on Jan. 15.

Toomey is a mem­ber of the Sen­ate-House Budget Con­fer­ence Com­mit­tee that is tasked with set­ting spend­ing levels for the rest of the fisc­al year. He hopes to rein in any Demo­crats who want to in­crease taxes and spend­ing and hopes a deal can be struck to avoid an­oth­er crisis.

“Soon­er would be bet­ter rather than later,” he said.

In the long term, he fa­vors a pro­pos­al that would auto­mat­ic­ally ex­tend con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tions to fund the gov­ern­ment when ap­pro­pri­ations bills are not ap­proved.

“Septem­ber 30th would be just an­oth­er day,” he said.

Toomey said he doesn’t agree on too many is­sues with fel­low Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Ca­sey Jr., a Demo­crat, but that the two have a great work­ing re­la­tion­ship.

“Sen­at­or Ca­sey is a good man,” he said.

Spe­cific­ally, Toomey and Ca­sey have worked closely to choose eight people who were nom­in­ated to the fed­er­al ju­di­ciary to rep­res­ent the state’s three ju­di­cial dis­tricts. All eight were con­firmed by the Sen­ate.

The sen­at­ors un­der­stand that pro­gress can­not be made by dis­agree­ing.

“You make pro­gress by look­ing at areas of agree­ment,” Toomey said.

Look­ing ahead to next year’s race for gov­ernor, Toomey said it’s too early to de­term­ine which Demo­crat will emerge to chal­lenge Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Tom Corbett.

Corbett was elec­ted hand­ily in 2010, a strong year for Re­pub­lic­ans, while Toomey edged Demo­crat Joe Ses­tak.

However, 2012 went the Demo­crats’ way. Ca­sey was re-elec­ted, and Obama car­ried the state, mark­ing the sixth con­sec­ut­ive time Demo­crats have won Pennsylvania in a pres­id­en­tial year. The Demo­crats also won the at­tor­ney gen­er­al post for the first time while main­tain­ing con­trol of the state treas­urer and aud­it­or gen­er­al of­fices.

“It’s a tough state for Re­pub­lic­ans,” said Toomey, up for re-elec­tion in 2016. ••

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