HARRISBURG -- How do you get things done in a gridlocked Congress? U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey says it helps to play by the rules.
At an appearance Monday before the Pennsylvania Press Club, the state's Republican senator explained how he used the intricacies of Senate procedure to help clear the way for a Sunoco project in Delaware County. Plans had been stymied in because federal law requires the company to use U.S.-flagged ships to transport natural gas to the Gulf Coast. Without such a vessel available, Sunoco needed an act of Congress to raise the Stars and Stripes on another ship.
But when an aide to Mr. Toomey inquired, he was told any new flags would have to wait for the Coast Guard reauthorization bill at some future date. Then another aide noticed a bill for a group of yachts that needed U.S. flags to compete in the America's Cup race, and the senator saw an opportunity.
Senate rules are so complex, he said, that the chamber often operates by agreeing to set them aside. In this case, an aide reminded the committee it needs unanimous consent to get its bill through the Senate.
"The response was something like, you're not seriously suggesting that Sen. Toomey would prevent the America's Cup yacht race from taking place?" Mr. Toomey said.
Not long after, his office was told there would be no problem including new flags for a few more ships.
"Now, it shouldn't have to work that way, right, but in the end that bill passed with a whole lot of yachts and three tankers," he said. "Today there is a $400 million project that's about to get under way in Delaware County, and its going to put several hundred people to work."
More often, Mr. Toomey said, getting legislation passed requires working with members from across the aisle. He gave examples of work he had done with Democrats: combating onerous financial regulations with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, sugar subsidies with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and earmarks with Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
"This is by far and away the most ordinary and successful way to get things done in Washington," he said. "It requires working with people across the aisle. In each of these examples, and there are many others, I can tell you with complete confidence I never had to sacrifice any principles that I believe in. I don't think my Democratic colleagues did either."
Still, two weeks before an election isn't a time to set aside all differences. Asked by reporters after the luncheon if he believed House Republicans would work with President Obama in a second term to avert the so-called fiscal cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes, Mr. Toomey said the Republicans have tried.
"From my experience on the supercommittee, I felt very much that I was reaching out and trying to meet the Democrats halfway," he said. "Including new revenue, which was a very hard thing for me to swallow, and not what I think is the optimal solution, but what I was willing to sacrifice in order to get cooperation on the other side. Unfortunately, they chose not to reciprocate.
"If President Obama had provided any leadership there during the supercommittee, we could have gotten something done."
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 1-717-787-2141 First Published October 23, 2012 5:00 AM