Back Channels: A chat with Rick Santorum

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum addresses the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington in February. He advocates empowering people, not the government.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum addresses the Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington in February. He advocates empowering people, not the government. (ALEX BRANDON / Associated Press)
Posted: May 15, 2011

Rick Santorum, presidential candidate and former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, was in town last week for a talk on health care. Afterward, I asked him about his run for president, the perception that he's too dogmatic on issues, and his differences with President Obama on the economy, the budget, and foreign policy.

Too dogmatic? If the concern is that I'm someone who believes in increasing people's power and limiting government's power, the answer is, yes, then I am pretty black and white about that.

The key to success of America is limited government and a belief in people's ability, given the opportunity, to provide for themselves, their family, and their community. I think government's role should be limited. And that's a basic foundational constitutional principle that I espoused when I was in Congress and the Senate. . . . Is that black and white? I think it's principled, and I think that it's principled based on what's worked in America. . . .

If you look at my service in the United States Senate . . . there were many, many opportunities that I did work with people on the other side, when we found common ground. I always felt it was very important to be civil. I didn't always accomplish it, but thought it was important to be civil, and to respect people's opinions on the other side. To challenge them, to show where they were wrong, if I believed they were wrong, but not to condemn people for their beliefs.

How to win over voters after losing in 2006 by 18 points? Six years ago, [U.S. Sen.] Mike DeWine . . . lost by 12 points in Ohio. Last year, he ran for attorney general . . . and he beat a sitting attorney general, after losing by 12 points. . . .

So I look at it as, yes, we had a bad year [in 2006]. I stood up for what I believed in and, as you know, during that election didn't flinch. Argued for more involvement in Iraq, not less. Argued for engaging and confronting Iran, which was something nobody wanted to hear. I mean, I was called a warmonger by every paper, including yours. I stood up and said we have to do Social Security reform. . . .

I think if you look at what I said and measure, what I said then and what I'm saying now is pretty much the same thing. And I think if you look at where the people of Pennsylvania were then and where they are now, they're much more aligned with me than they were in 2006. Things change. . . .

[I]f you're looking for someone who's going to stand up and fight for what they believe in, in good times and bad, someone you can trust is going to stand for the convictions he campaigns on, and not flip-flop on everything once he gets into office, I think I have a pretty good track record in Congress and in elections that I don't do that.

Federal budget and spending? I support the [U.S. Rep. Paul] Ryan budget, and the idea that we need to look at all the entitlement programs, including Medicare and Social Security. . . . I think we need to be honest with the American public that we have serious problems and that we can't just wait to solve them in the future. . . . The idea of cutting things in the future and not dealing with them now, you tend not to get those cuts in the future and tend to have the same problem we have now. . . .

Do we need to make big cuts now that affect people in retirement? No. But . . . to suggest that people over the age of 55 don't have any role to play in solving our fiscal problems for the next generation - I'm 53, so in two years I now have no responsibility to deal with this problem? That's ridiculous. . . .

I always use the . . . cost-of-living increase for Social Security [as an example]. . . . There's an inflation index that we use to increase Social Security payments. . . . And I ask seniors, would you support a system that ties Social Security to the Consumer Price Index? [They say yes, but] that's not what happens. That's not what we do. . . .

We don't tie it to price inflation. [We tie it to] wage inflation. . . . We shouldn't. It has nothing to do with Social Security beneficiaries. Wage inflation is a result of productivity gains within the economy, which seniors have nothing to do with. So you say, what's that matter? Well, historically, wages go up faster than prices. So what's happening is that Social Security beneficiaries are getting more of an increase than they would have if we tied it to prices.

So my point is, if we make that change, believe it or not, that solves almost half the problems of Social Security. And no one wants to do it. Why? Because you're cutting senior benefits.

President Obama surged troops into Afghanistan, increased drone attacks, kept Gitmo open, backed down on civilian trials for terrorist suspects, and got Osama bin Laden. What's not to like? All Bush policies. So he's done a great job in carrying forward on the strategic vision of George Bush. Where he has had to develop policy, he's gotten it wrong every single time. Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Honduras . . . keep going down the list. Every one of these areas he's made the wrong strategic decision for America. He's either refused to lead or he sided with the wrong side. . . .

Iran, he sided with the mullahs, not the revolutionaries.

Egypt, looks like he sided with the Muslim Brotherhood - which looks to be taking over Egypt - not with our allies. Threw them under the bus like that.

Syria, seems to be siding with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, as he is shooting his people in the streets.

Libya, dithers, doesn't engage, says [Libyan leader Moammar] Gadhafi has to go, and then the United Nations moves him and pushes him to get involved, but under the condition that Gadhafi doesn't go. It is an incomprehensible policy that is not going to resolve the situation there to any kind of good end.

Honduras, we sided with . . . [Jose] Zelaya, the [Honduran] president who wanted to extend his term, which was against the constitution. They went through the democratic process of the courts, and the congress, to remove this president who had violated the constitution, and what did we do? We sided with [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez, who was trying to get [Zelaya] to run for reelection so he could take over Honduras like Chavez took over Venezuela.

It's just one [situation] after another where we embrace our enemies and we turn our back on our allies. It's going to lead to a situation where our enemies aren't going to respect us and our friends aren't going to trust us.

The economy? I would do the opposite of what this president is doing. I would not be dramatically expanding the size and scope of government, and spending more money and increasing our debt, which I think is a destabilizing effect on our economy. I would not be passing huge comprehensive bills to take over sectors of the economy. . . . I would not be putting forth regulations that further inhibit growth in this country like the EPA's regulation of carbon dioxide. . . . And he goes out and beats up on business regularly. . . . So the tone is negative, the regulatory environment is negative, the legislative environment is negative. It's all pressing down on our ability to encourage people in this country to invest and grow their businesses. . . .

I would repeal Obamacare. I would dramatically change if not repeal most of Dodd-Frank. I would also throw Sarbanes-Oxley in there, too. [We should] start believing in refereeing private-sector markets rather than the referees getting on the field and telling the players how to run their plays - and by the way changing the rules of the game . . . in the middle of the game.

So, lower taxes, not just a continuation of the Bush tax cuts, but absolutely have to look at the corporate income taxes, the fact that they are so high in this country. I haven't put together a tax plan yet. I'm working on it, but it would be a plan that is simpler - tax simplification is to me is a very, very important thing. . . . That's the direction I think we need.


E-mail Kevin Ferris at kf@phillynews.com.

 

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