A day in the life of Pat Toomey

The senator juggles a crowded schedule with trips home to be with his family

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WASHINGTON -- It's 11:15 a.m. on Fat Tuesday, and Pat Toomey steps onto the subway that runs between the Capitol and his busy warren at the Hart Senate Office Building. He has a few spare moments between meetings -- just enough time to collect a hug from his nearly 3-year-old son.

The senator arrives to find Duncan in an armchair eating Senate cafeteria pizza and watching a cartoon on an iPad. Duncan's mother has stepped out to attend a spouses' luncheon, but she's left behind fasnachts -- doughnuts the Pennsylvania Dutch traditionally serve on the day before Ash Wednesday.

Already this day, Mr. Toomey has had breakfast with a new colleague, met a group of constituents, sat through a briefing with two top staffers, attended a budget hearing and cast a vote in favor of the Violence Against Women Act. This will be a long day, culminating after 10:30 p.m. with a gaggle of Pennsylvania reporters seeking reaction to the State of the Union address.

He doesn't get a chance to do any work at his desk, which is positioned between an American flag and a Pennsylvania flag.

But his mind is on the competing pulls represented by the flags -- constituents versus his philosophy of governing.

The $9 million he accepted in earmarks during his first term in the House of Representatives in the late 1990s were great for his district, but they weren't the right thing for the country, in his view. Accepting them is one of his biggest regrets.

"Pennsylvania is the biggest mushroom grower in the country and if someone proposed we start handing out checks to mushroom growers, you could argue that would be great for Pennsylvania, but it would be terrible for the economy, so I'd have to oppose it," Mr. Toomey said.

But there's no time to contemplate hypothetical votes or eat fasnachts. Mr. Toomey has a meeting with the Senate's most powerful members, an exclusive club he became a member of just recently when his colleagues elected him chairman of the Republican Steering Committee.

He heads downstairs to catch the subway back to the Capitol. As he's stepping on the train, an attractive brunette is getting off, and Mr. Toomey goes in for a kiss.

"It's my wife. This is Kris," he quickly says to onlookers, including his new press secretary, who hadn't met her yet.

Mrs. Toomey reverses course and hops on the subway to join her husband for the half-mile trip. It's one of the few chances she'll have to see him this day.

When he's in Washington, he's racing from one appointment to the next, sometimes changing gears so quickly that the handlers tailing him lose him to quickly closing elevator doors.

He has an apartment in Washington but gets home as often as he can, spending weekends transporting his daughter to hip-hop classes, taking his older son to see "The Hobbit," watching both play middle-school basketball, and calming Duncan's toddler tantrums.

Life in Zionsville, Pa., is more predictable than in Washington, where responsibilities seem to change by the minute and there's always a new demand.

Earlier, aides briefed him on a new budget report during a meeting that lasted half an hour -- an eternity for someone whose schedule is blocked out in small increments. The aim was to prepare to question Congressional Budget Office Director Paul Elmendorf during a committee hearing.

Mr. Toomey appears contemplative as he chews on the arm of his eyeglasses while two aides spew facts and figures about basis points, gross domestic product, debt ratios and consumption spending. The senator makes a calculation, first in his head, then on paper.

"We have to say you cannot arithmetically tax our way to a sustainable fiscal path. I think Elmendorf would agree with that, right? But what about the reverse of that? Will he acknowledge that you can solve this problem entirely on the spending side? He's going to say it's very hard," Mr. Toomey says. "Hard, maybe. But he can't make the case that it's arithmetically impossible."

His aides agree and point to a page in the latest CBO report that supports the senator's point. The trick is to be able to draw that out of Mr. Elmendorf during the hearing.

"Let's drill into this because you have to ask the question very, very precisely to make sure he can't duck it," Mr. Toomey tells his aides, who already have a list of proposed questions in a binder.

Good thing. Mr. Toomey barely has a chance to scan them before a staffer shoos him toward Dirksen Senate Office Building for the hearing.

Senators are recognized in order of seniority, and Toomey has to leave for a leadership meeting before he has a chance to question Mr. Elmendorf. Mr. Toomey says he's disappointed but he has other things on his mind now: namely, a meeting with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the highest-ranking Republican in Washington.

The meeting runs long. He's supposed to be back in his Hart office speaking with constituents from the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and after that he is hosting a Steering Committee luncheon. His staff makes some adjustments and brings the doctors over to the Capitol and has them wait in a hallway near the Senate chamber. It's already full of reporters who have questions for leadership, including one who gets a short quote from Mr. Toomey before the senator excuses himself.

The doctors already have been waiting at least half an hour and there's nowhere to sit, but they don't seem to mind. Pennsylvania doctors are happy to have Mr. Toomey's voice in Washington, said the association's president-elect, Bruce MacLeod, medical director of the emergency department at West Penn Hospital.

"What's on the front burner?" Mr. Toomey asks when he finally emerges from his meeting with Mr. McConnell and several other powerful senators.

They ask him to support graduate medical eduction and to find a permanent fix for Medicaid reimbursement rates.

"My hope is now that we're past the election, the Republicans will be willing to look at some of the flaws in the health care bill. I'm hoping they'll be willing to work with us on the more egregious flaws and we're going to be looking for your input," Mr. Toomey tells the doctors. Quick as that, he's gone again.

"Did he go that way?" one of his aides asks before chasing after him.

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Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 703-996-9292.


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