Practical Conservatism: Toomey Bridges the Partisan Divide


By Lowman S. Henry

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has been in office for less than a year, but in that short period of time he has emerged as something rare in present day Washington, D.C. – a principled officeholder who is willing to work with the other side of the aisle to arrive at solutions to the serious problems which confront our nation.

This is not easy to do, which is why so few members of congress are even trying. Two successive wave elections have sent to the national legislature groups of representatives who are polar opposites both in terms of party affiliation and ideology. This has gridlocked congress both rhetorically and legislatively.

The danger for any senator or congressman is that the slightest movement away from ideological orthodoxy results in immediate condemnation from their party’s base, seemingly making compromise impossible. But, for those willing to peel back the outer layers of the policy onion there are often obscure and archane details that provide opportunity for agreement and progress.

And so it was that Senator Toomey became the only member of the so-called “super committee” on deficit reduction to actually put on the table a new proposal that remained true to principle, but offered significant movement toward compromise. Unfortunately, no statesman emerged on the other side to reciprocate Toomey’s gesture, although apparently the freshman senator’s plan did cause other members to pause to consider.

The genius of Toomey’s plan was that it would have actually cut tax rates for a majority of taxpayers, while generating additional revenue through the closing of certain loopholes. As a former president of the Club for Growth, Toomey had a “Nixon goes to China” moment in that he is one of the few members of congress who could propose generating more tax revenue without getting totally ground up by conservatives, while giving Democrats some of the additional tax dollars they crave.

In the end, it wasn’t enough for the Democrats on the “super committee,” and even Toomey could go no further. But, given that Toomey was the only member of the committee to actually appear to be reasonable, thoughtful, and creative, it allowed him to emerge intact from what was otherwise a “super committee” train wreck.

In recent weeks Senator Toomey has further solidified his status as a bridge over the great partisan divide by teaming with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to introduce legislation aimed at banning congressional earmarks. The practice of earmarks – allowing members to insert pork barrel spending projects into legislation – has fueled the federal deficit. Ending earmarks is a vital first step toward fiscal restraint by congress, but is often seen as a conservative Republican issue. By joining forces with McCaskill, Toomey has transformed it into a good government issue.

There is no more highly partisan member of the United States Senate than Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer is an unashamed liberal who is the driving force behind his party’s electoral machine. But, last week Schumer and Toomey introduced a bipartisan plan to remove barriers standing in the way of private firms seeking to go public. Such a material change in corporate structure has resulted in job growth at 90% of the private firms that have gone public.

In announcing the plan Senator Schumer said: “During difficult economic times, it is critical that we give growing innovators the breathing room they need to access public markets. This is a common sense set of reforms that can bridge the partisan divide and have a real impact on job creation.” An argument can be made that if you can bridge the partisan divide between Chuck Schumer and Pat Toomey you have built a very solid structure. The bill stands an excellent chance of becoming law, and will ultimately have a profound positive effect on job creation.

It has often been said that “the devil is in the details.” But what Pat Toomey has demonstrated in recent weeks is that the solution may also be in the details. Both his proposal to the “super committee” and his bill to allow companies easier access to the capital markets show that the way forward is to address the smaller, more technical issues upon which consensus can be built. Eventually, after taking care of enough of the smaller issues, a path will emerge to resolving the larger ones.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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