Toomey Outlines Goals for Debt Committee

by Andrew Stiles

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who found out this morning that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) had selected him to serve on the congressional “super-committee,” said he “very strongly hopes” the panel can reach an agreement to avoid triggering the fallback measure that includes deep cuts to defense spending. In order for that to happen, Toomey told reporters on a conference call Wednesday, both parties will have to compromise. “If this committee is going to be successful, it absolutely has to have bipartisan support,” he said. “That’s how it was set up. This has to be done in a cooperative fashion.”

The freshman senator and former Club for Growth president said his “guiding principles” on the committee will be “the twin goals of reducing the deficit and continuing to promote economic growth.” To that end, he hopes to reform the tax code in order to broaden the base while lowering rates and growing the economy. “That will also generate more revenue,” he said. “A stronger economy always does.”

Major tax reform, Toomey suggested, would be difficult to achieve in the short period of time the committee will have to produce an agreement (by Nov. 23), but pointed to his recent vote to eliminate ethanol tax subsidies, which he called “indefensible,” saying that there are “a lot of opportunities in the tax code to make it much more sensible and in a way that encourages economic growth.”

Toomey, who like every other Republican appointee to the committee has signed Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” has acknowledged having “subtle” differences with the Americans for Tax Reform president. But Norquist offered his approval Wednesday, writing on Twitter: “Boehner and McConnell appoint friends of taxpayers to the ‘Debt Super Committee’ your wallet is safe.”

The senator expects a busy schedule for committee members once Congress returns from the August recess. “I imagine we’ll be meeting frequently including times when the entire Congress may not be in session,” he said. “We’ve got a great deal of work to do under a very tight time frame.”

Because of the abbreviated time frame, Toomey suggested that the new committee would not be starting from scratch, but rather building off of the “thoughtful ideas” that have already been “developed and demonstrated to have substance and political support.” He did not mention any particular proposal (e.g., the Gang of Six) by name.

Either way, Toomey says, the committee should not feel bound by the $1.5 trillion deficit reduction target set out in the recently passed debt ceiling bill. “If we could do more, we should,” he said. “We should be as ambitious as we can be.”

Toomey is so far the only super-committee appointee who voted against the debt-ceiling bill, claiming it did not go far enough. “Given all of the variables concerned, there were not sufficient reductions in spending that were commensurate to the circumstances we find ourselves in,” he said, and went on to casually predict that the Congressional Budget Office would soon be putting out a revised budget outlook that “is going to paint an even gloomier picture about deficits and debt.”

Regarding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D., Nev.) appointees to the committee, Toomey said he was “surprised” by the selection of Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), who currently chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “But I’ll leave it to others to address it.”

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