Pennsylvania's incoming senator, Pat Toomey, widely known as a fiscal hawk, says he is prepared to work with Democrats to "ratchet back the spending" and indicated he is even prepared to look at trimming a sacred cow, the budget for the Defense Department.
The economic crisis has refocused some Republicans, including newly-minted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., prompting them to step gingerly into this arena that is often fraught with political peril, always careful to reiterate, as Toomey did with reporters in his temporary office space Wednesday, that the men and women in the theaters of war will get all the money they need to do their jobs effectively.
But many who are determined to see the more than $14 trillion in national debt and steadily rising deficit drastically reduced have begun to take a look at the hundreds of billions of dollars that go to the Pentagon annually, noting that simply trimming from the non-defense, non-Entitlement spending programs is no longer enough.
"Defense spending cannot be taken off the table categorically," the Pennsylvania Republican, a former head of the conservative Club for Growth, said, adding, "The men and women who are putting their lives at risk on the battlefields need to have all the resources they need, but there's a vast amount of spending that goes through the Pentagon that is not related to the direct needs of the men and women who are in the service. So...we've got to look at the defense budget...to find savings there, as well."
Toomey said he is looking forward to working with Democrats to find common ground on some issues, citing a recent example, an op-ed with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., on the need to rein in the use of earmarks, or pork-barrel spending.
But the senator could soon find himself at loggerheads with members across the aisle as Congress will be forced in the months ahead to either increase the amount the nation can borrow, or the so-called "debt ceiling," or default on the nation's financial obligations. Toomey joins many in his party in insisting on concrete spending restraints before they give their "yes" vote to raise the amount the nation can put on its credit card above the current $14 trillion, a move the conservative Tea Party adamantly opposes.
"I would not be prepared to support an increase in the debt ceiling," Toomey warned, "unless we, in the process, are establishing a path toward sustainable, viable fiscal policy. We've got to get on a trajectory where the deficits shrink and where the debt becomes manageable. We are not there now, and we should not be voting to just increase that debt unless and until we're voting to get it all under control."
Echoing concerns expressed by his former House colleagues, the senator said he also wants to quash"regulatory overreaches" that have "a chilling effect on our economy," and suggested, as many Republicans have, that the Federal Communications Commission's recent Internet protection regulations are a target.
Saying he was "grateful and humbled" to be entering the Senate, Toomey said his family will remain in Pennsylvania and that he will spend "as little time as possible in Washington."