I always like Patrick Kerkstra’s stuff, so I was pretty disappointed to see how thin his case was that Pat Toomey is “surprisingly moderate.” Maybe the headline writer at Philly Magazine was just trying to goose pageviews or something.
I searched in vain through all 4 pages trying to find any evidence for the argument in the headline, and the case basically comes down to:
1. Toomey eschews the more fevered rhetoric of his nuttier Tea Party colleagues
2. Toomey says he offered Democrats revenue increases in the Supercommittee negotiations
The first point is just silly. Toomey uses a calmer tone than other doctrinaire rightwingers, but he shares all their most extreme policy views. Patrick is unable to name a single issue where Toomey is to the left of the Republican Party or Tea Party activists. If anything, he is more extreme than the rest of the GOP, as Patrick illustrates with a story about Toomey musing about ending the Universal Service Fund to a small business owner whose business depends on it.
Patrick says early in the article that he read The Road to Serfdom to prepare himself to cover Pat Toomey, but perhaps he should have read the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ comprehensive takedowns of Toomey’s claims about his Supercommittee proposal.
From the article:
After about three months of futile backroom discussions, the Super Committee was ready to announce it had failed, as most Washington observers had expected all along. And then Pat Toomey—the freshman senator—offered a compromise that for a fleeting moment looked like the ticket to a $15 trillion deficit deal both sides could swallow. His package was heavy on spending cuts (epic ones, in fact), but it also made a nod to the Democratic holy grail of new tax revenue—$300 billion worth.
“I was bending over backwards,” Toomey says from his office in the Hart Senate Office Building. He laughs, tightly. Six months have passed since then, but the memory still grates at him. “We were willing to do some really hard things. Putting additional revenue on the table is about as excruciating as it gets for Republicans.”
Democrats wanted more than the $300 billion. A lot more, so they rejected his offer, and the committee folded soon after. Still, the episode worked to Toomey’s enormous political advantage. It earned him a spot on the talk-show circuits. And the attempt at compromise made middle-of-the-road Democrats take notice of him, not just in Washington, but back home in Pennsylvania, too. “Pat has his beliefs, and he has the capacity to defend them incredibly well, but there’s a pragmatic side to him,” says David L. Cohen, the Comcast executive and Democratic power broker. “He’s not an ideologue. He’s a legislator.”
This certainly is the Pat Toomey version of Supercommittee history, but it is woefully incomplete as CBPP superwonks Bob Greenstein and James Horney explain here:
This is rather stunning. To try to secure an agreement, Democrats on the Joint Committee offered a plan that moved significantly toward the Republicans and a considerable way beyond the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson and Gang of Six plans, which conservative senators like Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo had embraced. Yet Republicans have summarily rejected the latest, rather conservative Democratic offer. Why?
The answer lies primarily in the principal difference between the Toomey plan and the Democratic offer: the Toomey plan would permanently set tax rates below those set by the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, effectively locking in the Bush tax cuts for high-income taxpayers (as well as other taxpayers) and taking them off the table for future deficit reduction. In addition, by requiring several trillion dollars in tax-expenditure savings in order to pay for these reduced tax rates, the Toomey plan would use up most or all of the achievable tax expenditure savings and effectively take tax expenditures off the table for future deficit reduction, as well.
By contrast, the Democratic offer would set the Bush tax cuts to the side, neither extending nor ending them and leaving their disposition for another day. And, by securing $400 billion from tax expenditures now rather than several trillion dollars as the Toomey plan would require, it would allow future Congresses to consider further savings here in the future rounds of deficit reduction that our fiscal situation will necessitate.
(Another difference between the two plans regards the Medicare eligibility age. While the Toomey and Democratic plans contain similar levels of Medicare savings, Toomey would raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, while the Democratic plan does not do so. We believe the Democrats made the right call on this, especially in the absence of any assurance that the Affordable Care Act will be allowed to take effect and provide a place for 65- and 66-year-olds to obtain coverage if the Medicare age is raised to 67.)
Toomey also wanted to use “dynamic scoring” to downplay the deficit-increasing effects of the tax cuts in his proposal. Hard core supply-siders like Toomey believe, in the face of all evidence, that cutting taxes can actually increase the amount of revenue collected by the government on net, and they are always trying to use “dynamic scoring” to overstate the effects of tax cuts on economic growth. CBPP says around $100 billion of the “new” revenues Toomey agreed to can be chalked up to dynamic scoring trickery.
It would’ve been appropriate for Patrick to provide a counterweight to Toomey’s version of the story, since the events described are contested, and the Toomey version is frankly unpersuasive.
Finally, we know how to measure where members of Congress sit on the ideological spectrum - DW-NOMINATE scores.
We don’t yet have the scores for the 112th Congress, but Harry Enten at Pollster looked at how Toomey stacked up back in 2010 before he was elected and showed that he would be the second most conservative Senator, to the right of Rick Santorum:
Perhaps Patrick would like to point to some votes that show Toomey did not turn out to be as conservative as Enten predicted, but I’m not seeing it. Patrick doesn’t even appear to believe that Toomey has moved to the left since his election, as he says in his concluding paragraph:
In other words, as even-keeled as Toomey’s tone may be, his agenda remains extraordinarily conservative by historical standards. The fact that despite this, Democrats increasingly see him as someone they can do business with tells us first that Toomey is very, very good. But more than that, it shows just how effective the Tea Party has been in moving the boundaries of the national conversation in the years since President Obama’s election. Toomey may not have budged much, but his party sure has. Remarkably, in today’s GOP, Pat Toomey is the moderate.
The last sentence makes no sense to me. Patrick is of course correct that the Republican Party has joined Pat Toomey over on the nutty right, but then the headline should have been “Republican Party Becomes Surprisingly Right Wing”, not “Pat Toomey is Surprisingly Moderate.”