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Rick Santorum: Yes, he is a true conservative

I’ve found myself defending Santorum from the claims that Santorum is some phony conservative – a ‘neo-con’ and a ‘big Government conservative’ – and in the process of researching found that, not only is Rick Santorum the conservative I believed he was, but that he has fiscal and economic bona fides that should make small-Government conservatives quite willing to support him.

Part of the attacks on Santorum, by making Santorum part of some Bushian plot to spending wildly, sadly repeats the Democrat talking points by blaming Bush for “the huge debt our nation now faces” as if somehow Bush was the worst drunken sailor of spending, ignoring the fact that Democrats created the last $5 TRILLION in new debt since 2006 (after Santorum left office, btw).

If we want to vet Santorum for real and not just throw talking points … let’s go to the record. The record will show that Santorum was and is a solid, mainstream conservative Congressman and Senator. In the 1990s, Santorum was a part of the Gingrich-led Congress that balanced the budget. And in 2002 to 2006 the budget deficit went to $250 billion – high but nothing like the level under Obama, Reid and Pelosi. Claims that Santorum is a big-government conservative are simply contrary to his full record and his conservative agenda as a candidate for President, where he wants to repeal Obamacare, cap spending at 18% and follow the Ryan roadmap and pass the BBA.

One source is Club for Growth, who give excellent summaries of where candidate stand and how they acted on economic and fiscal issues. Key points on Santorum:

Santorum has consistently supported broad-based tax cuts and opposed tax increases either by sponsoring key legislation or by casting votes on relevant bills.  Some high profile votes include:

  • Voted NO on the Clinton tax hike in 1993
  • Voted YES on the capital gains tax cut in 1997
  • Voted NO on a cigarette tax hike in 1998
  • Voted YES on repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax in 1999
  • Voted YES on the 2001 Bush tax cuts
  • Voted YES to repeal the Death Tax in 2002
  • Voted YES to the 2003 Bush tax cuts
  • Voted YES to extend the Bush tax cuts in 2006

On spending:

On spending, Santorum has a mixed record and showed clear signs of varying his votes based on the election calendar.  In the 1990s, when he was only a freshman Senator, he was a leading author on the bill that completely overhauled the country’s welfare system.   He also voted for the Freedom to Farm Act in 1996 that started the process of ending direct farm subsidies.   When Congress decided that it couldn’t live up to that promise, it voted to re-establish the subsidies in 2002 with the Farm Security Act, a bill that Santorum rightly opposed.   He also voted for a balanced budget amendment and a line-item veto in 1995.

More recently, when he was out of Congress, Santorum opposed TARP , the stimulus , the auto bailout, and the Fannie-Freddie bailout.

Club for Growth notes he deviations and issues on big-spending ticket items under Bush, including No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D, which Bush got most Congressional Republicans to support. They note his solid support for school choice, for Social Security entitlement reform, and some ‘mixed bag’ items in regulations: He voted NO on the oppressive McCain-Feingold bill in 2002. They also note with interest this:

One of those exceptions came in 2009, in the special election for Congress in New York’s 23rd district.  Santorum was the second high profile potential presidential candidate (Sarah Palin was the first) to endorse Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava.  This showed leadership for the limited government cause because of the timing of the endorsement, coming before establishment Republicans had figured out that Scozzafava was a losing candidate.

This is interesting because Newt Gingrich went a different way and endorsed the non-conservative Scozzafava. Club for Growth summarizes thusly:

On the whole, Rick Santorum’s record on economic issues in the U.S. Senate was above average.  More precisely, it was quite strong in some areas and quite weak in others.  He has a strong record on taxes, and his leadership on welfare reform and Social Security was exemplary.  But his record also contains several very weak spots, including his active support of wasteful spending earmarks, his penchant for trade protectionism, and his willingness to support large government expansions like the Medicare prescription drug bill and the 2005 Highway Bill.

I would add that the deviations from conservative positions were consistent with supporting his consituents interests.

Another source is VoteSmart. It shows a 100% prolife position. His National Taxpayer rating is 76%. ACU ratings in the 80-90% range.Some other positions:

2006 FreedomWorks – Positions 83%
2005 Americans for Tax Reform – Positions 95%
2005 FreedomWorks – Positions 63%
2005 National Taxpayers Union – Positions 69%
2004 Americans for Tax Reform – Positions 95%
2004 American Shareholders Association – Positions 90%
2004 National Taxpayers Union – Positions 83%

Here are his ratings from when he was in Congress:

American Conservative Union — 88%
National Right to Life Committee — 100%
Americans for Tax Reform — 95%
National Tax Limitation Committee — 92%
U.S. Chamber of Commerce — 88%
League of Private Property Voters — 94%

Now remember, this is Santorum’s House ratings, in a DEMOCRAT district. How many Republicans in Democrat areas vote this conservative? Kirk? Snowe?  That’s conviction!  Santorum is NOT a ‘big government conservative’ but an across-the-board mainstream conservative with a solidly conservative voting record, albeit marred with the support for earmarks and some spending bills that many Republicans in Bush eara fell prey to.

Yet another source that looks at Santorum’s record is Jen Rubin, who likewise absolves Santorum of the phony claim that he is a big-government conservative:

“While in Iowa, Texas Gov. Rick Perry tried to begin a line of attack on Rick Santorum claiming that the former Pennsylvania senator is a big-government conservative. That attack seems poorly thought through (shocking, I know from such a meticulous campaign) for several reasons.

First, Santorum is to the right of Perry in some important ways. Santorum opposed the Troubled Assets Relief Program; Perry wrote a letter on the day of the Senate vote urging Congress to pass legislation to avert a meltdown. Santorum, as we saw in the debates, is likewise to the right of Perry (and Newt Gingrich, for that matter) on immigration.

Indeed, Santorum’s supposed deviations from conservative orthodoxy are similar those of his rivals. He voted for earmarks and highway funds. Gov. Perry took the money. Santorum voted for Medicare Part D; Gingrich lobbied for it, and Perry said in a debate that he wouldn’t repeal it.”

“And finally, Santorum has put together an aggressive spending reduction plan. He’s for the balanced-budget amendment. He’s embraced Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. He’s in favor of Social Security reform, against energy subsidies, for privatizing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and in favor of repealing Obamacare. The guy is no liberal when it comes to spending taxpayer money. Is he to the right of Gingrich? Yes. To the left of Ron Paul? Yes. But so are most GOP voters.”

 

Where Santorum deviated from the conservative line, like his vote on NAFTA and his support for earmarks, he was doing the exceptional thing, and  those deviations were in most cases catering to his constituents. But UNLIKE most Northeast Republicans, that ‘catering’ did not extend to abandoning conservative principles again and again. They’ve been the exception to the rule that Congressman and Senator Rick Santorum held. With his support for lower taxes, prolife and profamily policies, conservative Judges, for balanced budgets and entitlement reform, against McCain-Feingold, for school choice, against TARP and Frank-Dodd.  Rick Santorum has  had a solid and mostly consistent conservative voting record.

Santorum further has a solid and conservative agenda for President. Romney timidly talks of getting spending maybe down to 20% of GDP. Rick Santorum fully supports the Republican balanced budget amendment that caps spending at 18% of GDP. He wants lower tax rates for all, going to a 10%/28% two tier tax rate and lowering corporate tax rates.

While Gingrich criticized the Ryan roadmap, Santorum embraced it. Newt supported Medicare Part D, supported at one time healthcare mandates, and supported all the Bush programs that conservatives object to in Santorum’s voting record.  Romney has gone further of course, embracing not just TARP, but healthcare mandates and failing to even fully criticize the Obama stimulus spending.  Only Gingrich or Santorum will wage a campaign that fully challenges Obama’s whole agenda and actually works to repeal it. Newt has pegged Mitt Romney rightly as a Massachusetts moderate, but Newt is not without flys in his ointment either, from global warming to embracing Hillary, Pelosi and Al Sharpton (!) at various times in attempts to ‘reach across’ bipartisanly.

The bottom line is that between Newt, Santorum, and Romney .. Santorum is the one who is most fiscally conservative and who will have the most fiscally conservative administration as President.

Both Newt and Santorum are conservative. Just not perfect conservatives. For those who say that Santorum is not a ‘true conservative’, I would argue simply that if an 85% ACU rating and leadership on conservative issues in Congress for almost 2 decades is not enough, you will NEVER find a ‘true conservative’ in the Presidential field.

For the rest of us without that fine a filter, yes, Rick Santorum is a ‘true conservative’. Conservatives will be happy with his SCOTUS picks, his support of our military, his support for life, his tax reform and entitlement reforms, his pro-energy policies, his economic growth agenda, his fiscally responsible budgets, and his appeal to get America working again.

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