NRSC Reacts to Specter

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn just released the following statement:

“Senator Specter’s decision today represents the height of political self-preservation.  While this presents a short-term disappointment, voters next year will have a clear choice to cast their ballots for a potentially unbridled Democrat super-majority versus the system of checks-and-balances that Americans deserve.”

Specter and Card Check

Even though Arlen Specter says he remains opposed to card check, he could still support some watered-down version of the legislation to win over unions as he seeks the Democratic nomination. Remember, in his statement announcing his opposition to the measure, he proposed other pro-union reforms and left himself open to reconsider card check in the future. He said: “If efforts are unsuccessful to give Labor sufficient bargaining power through amendments to the NLRA, then I would be willing to reconsider Employees’ Free Choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy.”

Stay tuned.

Specter’s Choice

Clearly, Arlen Specter was facing a tough primary fight against Pat Toomey and from his statement it’s pretty clear he determined that he couldn’t win as a Republican. But it’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to win the Democratic nomination so easily either, especially given his vow not to reverse his position on card check yet again. If Specter had made this party switch right after his vote in favor of the stimulus package, and before he decided to oppose card check, he would have been in a far better position to claim the Democratic nomination. Now, as Kos writes:

Interestingly, he remains a foe of EFCA, which means that labor is free to fund and help a real Democrat in the Democratic primary. Bizarre choice. Had he decided to back EFCA, as he has always done so in the past, he’d have labor’s full support. Now, he gives the opposition an opening to take him out in the Democratic primary.

This is a huge blow for Republicans hoping to stop Obama’s agenda in the Senate. Specter had been moving to the right on issues such as card check because he was concerned about the challenge from Toomey, but if he’s facing a tough battle against a liberal opponent in the Democratic primary, the opposite dynamic comes into play and he’s likely to move even further to the left. The only way he’ll get the Democratic nod is if he reliably votes with the administration.

From the Imagine if Bush Had Done it Department

As you know, yesterday’s stunt in New York City in which the Air Force One backup plane was flying low as part of an ill-considered photo op created a short panic in the area, resulting in the evacuation of several buildings. If this had happened during the Bush administration, one could have expected universal mockery and condemnation of yet another act of incompetence. Yet this is how the NY Times excuses President Obama:

When President Obama learned of the episode on Monday afternoon, aides said, he, too, was furious. Senior administration officials conveyed the president’s anger in a meeting with Mr. Caldera on Monday afternoon.

In other words, somehow, in the midst of a completely bungled situation, Obama manages to emerge from the Times account as a take charge leader. How many people think that Bush would have gotten off so easy?

You can get a sense of how low the airplane was flying here:

Toomey Talks

In 1998, Pat Toomey left a career in finance and restaurants to launch a bid for a Congressional seat in Pennsylvania’s 15th District, located in Allentown. After winning a surprising victory, he served for six years in the U.S. House of Representatives, earning a lifetime 97 percent rating from the American Conservative Union. In 2004, he challenged incumbent Arlen Specter for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, coming within 17,000 votes out of a million cast in a bitterly fought primary in which he was outspent 4 to 1.

Toomey served as president of the Club for Growth for more than four years starting in 2005 as the organization financed candidates who stood for lower taxes and limited government. Earlier this month, Toomey announced he would challenge Specter again in 2010, setting the stage for what is sure to be one most closely watched primary battles of next year’s election cycle. A Rasmussen poll released last week showed Toomey with a 21-point edge over Specter.

On Monday morning, I spoke with Toomey via telephone about the upcoming race, his conservative ideology, and President Obama’s job performance.

PK: What made you decide to transition from your successful business career into politics?

Toomey: By the late ’90s, when I ran for Congress, I had become pretty well steeped in a lot of free market ideas that I’m still very hopeful about, and believe strongly in, like school choice, free trade, Social Security reform where workers could accumulate personal savings — a number of specific ideas that I’m convinced will lead to more prosperity and greater well-being on the part of a vast majority of Americans. After the 1994 elections, when Republicans took control of Congress, I thought there was really an opportunity to advance these ideasâ€_

PK: Now we obviously have a much different set of circumstances, with Democrats in total control of Washington. So, what has made you decide to challenge Arlen Specter again?

I think you’re right. I think we now have the most liberal elected government in the history of the republic. I think they are very consciously and systematically attempting to take America on a huge lurch to the left, to really remake our society in a fashion similar to a European-style welfare state. They are trying to fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between citizens and our government. And it’s frightening to me, and it will have devastating consequences if they’re successful, and of course, Arlen Specter has been happy to cooperate actively with this effort. His support for all the bailouts, his support for massive spending, and his support for the Democrats’ agenda and defeating the Republican filibuster on the stimulus bill. It’s just unconscionable to me that a Republican can be actively facilitating this huge lurch to the left. So I want to run for the Senate, I want to get elected to the Senate, and I’m confident I can. And I want to try and stop this liberal freight train and actually turn the direction around.

PK: Specter, and some other critics of your time at the Club for Growth, have argued that your support for conservative challengers to moderate Republicans in the primaries cost seats for Republicans. They talk, for instance, about the Chafee-Laffey [U.S. Senate race in Rhode Island], which could have decided control of the Senate in 2006. How would you respond to that criticism?

It’s an entirely and completely false charge, like most of the charges that Specter makes. Let’s take the Lincoln Chafee situation. Bear in mind, what is lost when Lincoln Chafee leaves the Senate? First of all, within a matter of months, he abandoned the Republican Party formally. He’s no longer even a Republican. During the presidential campaign, he publicly endorsed Barack Obama instead of John McCain. So what is it we had in the form of Lincoln Chafee? He wasn’t a Republican in any meaningful sense of the word. But as for his political prospects, the man was destined to lose that race no matter what. He was in absolutely irrecoverable decline long before we got involved in the race. And take a look at his general election outcome. It wasn’t closeâ€_

PK: What would you say to Republican primary voters who feel that they agree with you more on the issues, but they wonder, are you going to be electable in a general election? If you’re going to lose a general election, would Specter still be preferable to a Democrat? And pointing to Rick Santorum’s performance in 2006, could somebody with your conservative views win in a state that has increasingly become Democratic?

Point number one, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I have a much better chance of winning a general election in Pennsylvania in 2010 than Arlen Specter would. I see no scenario under which Arlen Specter could win the general election, even if he were somehow miraculously to win the primary. And here’s why. There is such a breadth and depth of antipathy toward Senator Specter among Republicans generally, and conservatives in particular, that if he were somehow to manage to win the primary, which he would need massive Democratic crossover to do, he will guarantee a conservative third party candidate in the general election — a Constitution Party candidate or a Libertarian Party candidate. And these kinds of third party candidates in Pennsylvania have a history of breaking into double digits. Against Tom Ridge, third party candidates in gubernatorial races got 11 to 13 percent of the vote. Now Tom Ridge was a moderate, but Tom Ridge was never hated. Arlen Specter is a liberal, and the animosity toward him is so great that I think this third party candidate would easily break 15 points, maybe get into the high teens, and it’s not possible for Arlen Specter to win an election when somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of the electorate, in the form of Republicans and conservatives, is voting for a third party candidate. So, Senator Specter would almost certainly lose a general election.

Now, as far as my own prospects go, the comparison to Rick Santorum is completely meaningless. It’s a complete red herring thrown out by the Specter people. Rick Santorum didn’t lose in 2006 because he was too conservative, he lost because he was a Republican running in 2006. 2006 was the worst Republican year since 1974. Republicans all across the country and all across the ideological spectrum were losing. Nancy Johnson lost a seat in Connecticut. Charlie Bass lost a seat in New Hampshire. Sue Kelly lost a seat in New York. These are very moderate to liberal Republicans, and they were crushed, because it was a very bad year for Republicans. So, this didn’t have anything to do with his ideology.

Senator Specter will argue that I’m too conservative because among other things, I’m pro-life. The only problem with that argument is the Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, is pro-life.  He’s a pro-life, pro-gun Senator. So how is it that such an impossible position from which to get elected? This is just Senator Specter, who can’t defend his own record, desperately trying to find some way to impugn me.

The final point I’ll make is look at the Congressional district I represented. I was elected three times to represent the 15th District of Pennsylvania. That’s a district in which my predecessor was a Democrat, the Democratic nominee has won the last five presidential elections in that district, and the Democrats outnumber the Republicans. Yet I won that district three times by increasing margins, and I never lost it. So I believe that is very clear evidence that I can attract Democratic support, win a tough general election, and I can do that state-wide as well.

PK: President Obama wants to see himself as this transformational liberal leader who’s embarking on a third wave of government expansion following on the New Deal and the Great Society. Republicans clearly are in a very limited position to resist right now. What do you think Republicans can do to resist Obama given that in the next year he’s going to try to shove through as much as he can?

First of all, Republicans need to make principled arguments for alternative policies. We’ve got to be willing to stand up and criticize this massive expansion of government. I think the American people understand intuitively that endless bailouts of failing companies are a bad idea. I think they understand that we got into this mess we’re in now, at least in part, because of too much borrowing and spending, and the idea that the government is going to get us out of it by massive and additional borrowing and spending — that’s a pretty dubious proposition. So I think we can easily persuade people of the failures of this policy and to do that we need to have constructive alternatives, and politically and tactically, we need to stop this in the Senate. Part of the reason I’m running is that Senator Specter has demonstrated that we do not have the ability to sustain a filibuster in part because he doesn’t want to. He wants to side with the Democrats and advance this liberal agenda. He’s done it already. There’s every reason to believe he would do it again. And it’s just too important that Republicans stand up in opposition to this socialization of America. And I think we can do it, but we need to have the right people in the Senate — people who are willing to do it.

PK: Your economic views are well known, both before your time at the Club for Growth and with your work there, so I’d like to get a better sense of your views on foreign policy. Broadly speaking, most conservatives during the Bush administration tended to be supportive of the administration’s actions during the War on Terror, and decision to invade Iraq. Whereas some more libertarian Republicans, and certainly those who Ron Paul spoke to, were rooted in the belief that we can’t think government is any better at meddling in other people’s affairs overseas as it is meddling with the free market at home. They were very critical of the Iraq War, and have argued that our involvement overseas has made us less safe. In terms of that divide among people who may agree with each other about the size of government in domestic issues, where do you see yourself?

Toomey: The vote authorizing the president to use force in Iraq occurred while I was a member of the House and I voted in favor of that authorization. I will tell you it was probably the toughest vote I had to cast while I was there. But I thought then, and I still believe now, that it was probably the right risk to take, understanding that it was a very big risk. And the reason I felt that is I do believe Saddam Hussein was a very grave medium-term threat to the United States. I think he was a force for enormous instability and great and dangerous mischief in the Middle East and beyond. And after Sept. 11, and after we had witnessed and suffered through such a devastating attack, I thought we had to change some of these fundamental circumstances and in getting rid of Saddam Hussein and allowing the Iraqi people to build a democratic society of their own that would be free of that brutal dictator, it struck me as a risk that we ought to take, as difficult as that was. There’s plenty of legitimate, very legitimate, criticism of how the war was conducted, especially in the early and middle stages of it. There’s plenty of blame about some of the planning and implementation of policies after the initial very successful military efforts. But in the end, the surge then did work, and it’s unfortunate that it wasn’t deployed far sooner. But it did work. And I am cautiously optimistic that things will turn out okay in Iraq as long as we don’t pull out precipitously.

PK: Right now, one of the big debates is over the Bush administration’s interrogation program, and it’s taken on several different strands. There are those who think it’s absolutely morally beyond the pale, there are those who say if you look at the results it got that it did save American lives, and then there’s this debate over the legal aspects, and whether there should be some sort of “Truth Commission” to look into what happened and whether we should be prosecuting former Bush administration officials. What is your viewpoint on this issue?

Toomey: I think the current administration is guilty of undermining our national security with what they’re doing right now, and it’s appalling. First of all, their decision to release these memos I think was a very poor decision. If they were going to do that, they also should have disclosed the kinds of attacks that the interrogations prevented and it’s disturbing that they continue to remain unwilling to release that. The idea that we would now go after and criminally prosecute men and women who were following legal advice and doing their jobs to try and protect Americans is absolutely appalling and will have a chilling effect on our ability to secure this country going forward. So I think it’s a terrible policy that this administration is threatening.

PK: How would you describe the philosophical difference between your views and the Obama approach to health care? And how do you think Republicans can make the case against the Obama-style approach?

Toomey: The fundamental divide is clearly whether we’re going to have privately provided, privately financed health care in this country, or whether we’re going to go down the road of having the government take over the process. It’s very clear that the Obama administration wants government-controlled health care. That can only lead to government rationing and lower quality of health care. That is a very disturbing direction in my mind. Republicans have generally favored a more market-based approach — that is my preference. I would like to start by reuniting the role of the patient and the consumer. We’ve separated those two by relying on third party payer systems. This is one of the fundamental flaws of how we pay for health care in this country. That needs to be addressed. There are a number of ways in which government forces prices higher than they need to be. For health care, one is tolerance of legal abuses, litigation that directly has a huge cost, but indirectly has an even bigger cost by forcing doctors to practice defensive medicine on a scale that is totally inappropriate.

The other thing is mandates on coverage. The various states have all sorts of mandated [benefits] that make insurance more expensive than it would otherwise be. These are the kinds of things we can do that enhance personal freedom and choices by consumers and lower cost at the same time. That’s the philosophical and practical direction that I want to head in, and it’s the opposite of where the Obama administration wants to go.

I think politically we can win this argument by reminding the American people that when the government runs the show, you’re not in control anymore. You’re not going to have choices. And we’re going to end up having rationing. I don’t think many Americans want a Canadian style, or a British style, health care system, and the more they learn about those systems, the more they’ll shy away from them.

PK: This week, we’re coming up on 100 days of the Obama administration. What grade would you give President Obama?

I would give him a very low grade, because I think he is embarking on a profoundly wrong direction. This massive expansion of government will do much harm. It will make Americans fundamentally dependent on government and make us a weaker rather than stronger country. The spending that he has already approved and that which he is proposing is absolutely unsustainable and can only result in serious economic problems down the road. This international apology tour I thought was appalling, and it was really shocking [for it] to come from an American president. So, I fail to see much to commend in the first 100 days of the Obama administration.

Did Obama Just Propose Another $70 Billion in Annual Spending?

Speaking at the National Academy of Sciences this morning, President Obama declared, “I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development.”

The AP reports:

He set forth a wish list for the future including “learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again; an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and world the around us.

Like most of Obama’s domestic proposals, the underlying idea is that private enterprise isn’t allocating resources efficiently enough, and that a more active role for the federal government is required to make sure that society’s wealth is channeled toward worthy goals. Sure, the way Obama presents it, who could be against all of these wonderful scientific breakthroughs? The problem is that this idea of setting a target for how much our nation will allocate  toward a sector of the economy and goals for what that money will yield was a basic tenet of all of the failed centrally planned economies of the 20th Century.

It’s also worth putting Obama’s numbers in context. In 2007, the most recent year for which I was able to find data, Plunkett Research pegged R&D spending in the U.S. at $360 billion, which was more than any other nation in the world. As a percentage of GDP, the U.S. was at 2.6 percent, second in the world only to Japan. Obama suggested increasing this number to more than 3 percent. So let’s just say we make it 3.1 percent. Given the most recent GDP was $14.2 trillion, we’re looking at a gap of about $70 billion a year that Obama evidently wants government to make up for. 

Of course, Obama has a familiar retort:

“At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science. That support for research is somehow a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree,” Obama said.

“Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been,” he said.

And so Obama leads us further down his primrose path.

Obama Reduces Union Transparency

The Obama administration has finally found an area in which it is for less regulation — not surprisingly, it involves monitoring big labor. One of the quiet successes in the Bush administration was Elaine Chao’s leadership of the Department of Labor, because she recognized that the function of the agency was to police abuses by unions as well as businesses. Under Chao’s leadership, the Office of Labor Management Standards helped uncover fraud by union officials, leading to 1,004 indictments with 929 convictions, and recovering more than $93 million on behalf of union members. Now, Obama Labor Secretary Hilda Solis — who as I have documented elsewhere is in the pocket of big labor — has decided to roll back disclosure requirements of unions, increasing the likelyhood that they’ll be able to defraud their members. So much for Obama’s new era of transparency.

183 Sessions vs. 183 Pours

Cliff May writes:

A Corner exclusive: How many times have you read and heard in the mainstream media that terrorists were waterboarded more than 180 times?

It turns out that’s not true. What is?

According to two sources, both of them very well-informed and reliable (but preferring to remain anonymous), the 180-plus times refers not to sessions of waterboarding, but to “pours” – that is, to instances of water being poured on the subject.

Under a strict set of rules, every pour of water had to be counted – and the number of pours was limited.

Also: Waterboarding interrogation sessions were permitted on no more than five days within any 30-day period.

No more than two sessions were permitted in any 24-hour period.

A session could last no longer than two hours.

There could be at most six pours of water lasting ten seconds or longer – and never longer than 40 seconds – during any individual session.

Water could be poured on a subject for a combined total of no more than 12 minutes during any 24 hour period.

You do the math.

Even if true, I see this as a distinction without a difference. For years, the operating assumption was that KSM was waterboarded in one 90-second session, and then broke down. This conveyed a sense that the practice was used in a singular, last ditch effort to get him to talk, and lended credence to the idea that this kind of thing would only be used to prevent an imminent attack — the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario. Now the argument is that it wasn’t 183 sessions, but 183 pours, and that the session could last no longer than two hours and it couldn’t be performed for more than five days in a month. Whatever the case, we now know that the technique was employed more often than we originally thought, and the fact that it was done over the course of a month undermines the idea of a “ticking time bomb.” Since we’re now operating with a different set of facts, at least in my case, it’s forced me to reexamine my own stance on this issue, even though abstractly I think that waterboarding is morally justifiable if using the technique is the only way to save thousands of innocent lives.