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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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Scott Paterno Commentary: The Uncomfortable Truth


A few weeks before he announced his own run for the White House, Gov. Perry made the following statement: “Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That’s New York, and that’s their business, and that’s fine with me. That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business.”
 
It is a simple view of the 10th Amendment and one that certainly has merit: individual states should be left to their own devices on matters that are not, to paraphrase the Amendment, expressly delegated to the Federal Government. As Gov. Perry correctly notes, that includes the definition of marriage, among other things; absent a Constitutional amendment, the States have jurisdiction.
 
The wording of the amendment is important. It reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” It is often referred to as “the reserved powers clause” because of its distinct wording; it limited federal constitutional powers to those powers specifically delegated while the remainders – everything else – were “reserved to the States.”
 
The history of the Republic is marked by the battles over the reserved and delegated powers, on issues ranging from slavery to abortion, from apple grading to building codes. The Founders meant it that way, and intentionally left the larger swath of political unknowns to the states. They did this so that new policies could to be tested on a smaller scale while respecting local mores and customs.
 
The system is genius. As Franklin noted, it set up each state as an incubator of policy ideas, allowing failures to be limited in scope while the very best policies could be replicated by other states.
 
That is why Governor Perry’s position on the 10th Amendment is correct – but it is also why his attack on Romneycare rings so hollow.
 
This is not a specific defense of Romneycare; on the contrary, I dislike the law and there are many aspects that were failures. But, bluntly, that is exactly what is supposed to happen – states are supposed to try and fail in the hopes that they will occasionally succeed. This allows our society to benefit from the testing of any number of new policy ideas while significantly limiting national risk in the event an attempt does fail.
 
Think about it in these terms: does anyone think that uninsured people aren’t an issue we, as a society, should try and address? The cost of mandatory treatment for uninsured people at hospitals makes the economics alone a sufficient basis for the attempt. In 2006 most of us – myself included – wanted to see states try new options to mitigate this obvious problem.
 
When then Gov. Romney took a swing at the problem he did so with the right intentions – he built a plan that fit his constituency in the hopes of solving a problem all but the most cynical see. It was not a plan for Pennsylvania, Hawaii or Texas – it was a plan for Massachusetts. 
 
The legislation’s results were mixed; fewer children are uninsured but the plan was unwieldy and expensive. The country learned from the experience, even if the Obama administration did not; state governments did not adopt the Massachusetts plan. And it is hardly the fault of the former Governor of Massachusetts if a subsequent President tried to force a state plan on the entire nation while dramatically expanding the original plan’s scope.
 
No one – not even Perry – is arguing that the people of Massachusetts didn’t get what they wanted when the legislature adopted a version of universal care. And, at the same time Massachusetts was setting its policy, the people from “the State of Texas” were able to keep their system – a result 10th amendment purists should applaud. The system worked exactly as the Founders intended.
 
Governor Perry, as his remarks on gay marriage demonstrate, knows this. His attacks on Governor Romney over a valid state issue are therefore politically crass and disingenuous.
 
But even more than that, the attempt to score cheap points shows the lack of perspective many sense in the current governor of Texas. After all, we want states to experiment with new ideas and ways to try and solve problems we all know exist. If we make the price of such failure the end of later ambition aren’t we dooming ourselves to repeating the same problems again and again? Put another way, if we place such a huge disincentive on trying new things, aren’t we simply limiting ourselves to the failed ideas of the past?
 
The 10th Amendment encourages the opposite. Governor Romney understood this and was willing to take a chance and see if there wasn’t something better than the status quo.
 
Did it work? Not the way he’d hoped. But the attempt was and remains important, as does the critical lesson – that the states are the place to try these new solutions. Let the states try and fail (until we succeed) as the constitution intended. One size does not fit all.
 
That is why Governor Perry is in such a bind – he needs to attack Gov. Romney for passing universal healthcare when in reality he knows that this is exactly what the 10th Amendment he champions contemplates. He understands the fundamental difference between Romneycare and Obamacare has always been this simple: Romneycare is a state level solution envisioned by the 10th Amendment and welcomed by the constituents it serves; Obamacare is a federal mess imposed through questionably democratic means on a populace who doesn’t want it.
 
The next 4-8 years will present any number of new and nearly intractable problems, ranging from emerging threats to economic upheaval. Solutions will be proposed at all levels of government – exactly as our federal system envisioned. Some of these ideas will succeed while even more will likely fail. But the attempts are desperately needed, and the solution to our big problems will remain elusive as long as we don’t have encourage and foster those attempts.
 
That is what the 10th Amendment envisioned. Do we really want a leader so hidebound by rhetoric that he cannot see the larger principle? Can we afford a leader who will only “stick to his guns” when circumstances ultimately (and inevitably) change? And can we truly call such a person a “leader?”
 
After all, isn’t that what we have now, and isn’t that what we are seeking to replace?
 
I’m Scott Paterno, and that is the uncomfortable truth.

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