Toomey picked for deficit committee

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WASHINGTON -- Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey will be one of the 12 lawmakers on a powerful bipartisan congressional committee tasked with agreeing by this fall on how to reduce the federal deficit, and he is expected to be one of its most conservative anchors.

Of the nine lawmakers named to the panel so far, Mr. Toomey was the only one to vote against the debt deal that Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed Aug. 2, saying it did not do enough to cut long-term spending.

The surprising inclusion of Mr. Toomey among the three panel picks by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., follows months of high-profile rhetoric on debt issues from the freshman Allentown Republican, among the first voices in Washington to urge using the nation's debt-ceiling extension to push for deep budget cuts.

"This is a very, very important moment in the history of our country. We're facing a very, very serious challenge and we need to address it very aggressively," Mr. Toomey told reporters after being chosen.

Mr. McConnell also named Jon Kyl of Arizona, a confidante and No. 2 Senate GOP leader, who is retiring in 2013 and is another solid conservative. Mr. McConnell also appointed Ohio freshman Rob Portman, a budget director and trade representative for then-President George W. Bush. Mr. Portman is viewed as a possible vice-presidential pick next year.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, named conservative Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, a rising force among House Republicans, as the panel's GOP co-chairman. Mr. Boehner also appointed House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, a pair of veteran Michigan Republicans, to the committee.

On the Democratic side, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., chose Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who runs the Senate Democratic campaign arm, as her party's committee co-chair. He also appointed Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Foreign Relations Committee chairman who was 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., a centrist who strayed to back Mr. Bush's 2001 tax cuts.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., must name the last three Democratic panel members by Tuesday.

The committee has until the day before Thanksgiving to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in savings over the coming decade. If it cannot find seven members to back a consensus plan, then deep spending cuts would be triggered in defense spending championed by Republicans as well as entitlement spending cherished by Democrats. A consensus will require some bipartisanship.

Mr. Toomey sent mixed signals on that point Wednesday. He noted that he could work with Democrats on fiscal issues, citing bipartisan legislation he supported this summer to repeal ethanol subsidies.

At the same time, he all but ruled out making tax increases a part of a deficit compromise, and said he was "surprised" that Ms. Murray was also named to the panel. Some other Republicans have criticized that pick, given her campaign committee role.

"If this committee's going to be successful, it absolutely has to have bipartisan support," said Mr. Toomey, noting that any deal it reaches must win House and Senate majorities as well.

"This has to be done in a cooperative fashion," he said. "It has to be an exercise in finding common ground between Republicans and Democrats, but it also has to be constructive with respect to reducing our deficit, and it has to be pro-growth as well."

All six panel Republicans in the past have signed onto the no-tax pledge championed by the conservative Americans for Tax Reform. That lobbying group's president, Grover Norquist, said Wednesday: "I think having Toomey on the committee is great. He's both a budget guy and a strong anti-tax leader."

Taxes will be at the fulcrum of the debate since Democrats, including Mr. Obama, have demanded that increased revenue be part of any long-term debt deal. Republicans are not poised to agree.

"None of the Republicans being nominated to the super-committee would vote for a tax increase," Mr. Norquist said. "[And] if for some reason they all got food poisoning and missed the meeting, and the Democrats voted out a tax increase, it would never pass through the House of Representatives."

Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, hopes that Mr. Toomey will agree to increased tax revenue. He thinks, moreover, that the deficit discussion so far lacks a key component.

"Sitting here and saying, 'Cut, cut, cut,' without talking about job creation, you are leaving out a key part of deficit reduction," he said. " ... This deficit goes away if we have job creation. That's part of the reason it went away in the '90s."

Mr. Toomey, a congressman from 1999 to 2005, led the limited-government and anti-tax lobbying and political action organization Club for Growth for the four years thereafter. Since his Senate election in November, he has positioned himself as a key GOP caucus member on budget concerns, and even introduced his own budget blueprint.

He also had an impact on the debt-ceiling debate by arguing that the Obama administration had oversold the potential damage that running out of borrowing authority would cause -- his view was that the government could still afford to pay debt service -- and thus bolstered Republicans' bargaining stance when many appeared willing to ignore the president's stated Aug. 2 deadline for a national default.

Mr. Toomey -- by allying himself with both Mr. McConnell and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a potent force in the tea party movement with his own right-wing power base -- is seen as "a bridge-builder among different parts of a family," said David Addington, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

Mr. Addington said Mr. Toomey's history on Wall Street and at the Club for Growth, as well as his budget and commerce committee posts, makes him a good pick for the super-committee, while also providing another sign of his rising prominence. "He's got the background and the access to information to be really influential," Mr. Addington said.


Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581. Daniel Malloy: dmalloy@post-gazette.com or 202-445-9980. Associated Press contributed.


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