"(Rick) Santorum voted to raise the debt limit 5 times."
With his road to the nomination suddenly blocked by former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney cannot afford to lose his native state in the Feb. 28 Republican primary. Romney super PAC Restore Our Future is attacking Santorum's voting record as a "Washington insider." The 30-second TV spot targets two perceived vulnerabilities: Santorum's record of raising the debt limit and support for "earmark" congressional spending.
Until recently, votes to raise the nation's debt limit were strictly routine. Under U.S. law, an administration can spend only if it has sufficient funds to pay for it. Failure to raise the ceiling means the government cannot meet its obligations, including interest payments on Treasury bills.
But with a national debt that now exceeds $15 trillion, those obligations looked shaky in the summer of 2011 as conservative House Republicans threatened to block any increase in the debt ceiling. That authorization finally passed on Aug. 1. Four days later, credit-rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the credit rating of U.S. government bond for the first time in the country's history.
And for billions in wasteful projects including the "Bridge To Nowhere."
Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" is the undisputed poster child for wasteful pork barrel legislation.
The proposed bridge was to replace the ferry that links the town of Ketchikan with an island that contains Ketchikan International Airport and a few dozen residents. The bridge was projected to cost $398 million, but was killed in 2005 after an uproar over the project. It was tucked in a much larger transportation spending bill.
Santorum has championed his share of earmarks, which are provisions added to bills directing that funds be spent on a specific project. The former Pennsylvania senator acknowledges his vote for the Bridge to Nowhere, saying in Iowa: "I went with the federalist argument, which is, “Who am I in Pennsylvania to tell Alaska what their highway priorities should be?”
But for all the Strum und Drang, earmarks count for less than one-third of 1 percent of the federal budget. According to the federal Office of Management and Budget, earmarks in 2010 accounted for $11 billion -- a mere drop in a $3.46 trillion budget.
In a single session, Santorum co-sponsored 51 bills to increase spending and 0 to cut spending.
Santorum even voted to raise his own pay.
The base pay for House and Senate lawmakers is $174,000. In 1989, Congress passed an amendment affording annual cost of living increases unless members vote to rescind them. Santorum, in fact, voted several times against efforts to block the automatic increases.
And joined Hilary Clinton to let convicted felons vote.
In 2002, Santorum voted for a failed amendment that would have allowed felons who completed their prison term and were not on parole to vote. He was one of three Republicans to vote for it.
An earlier version of the claim appeared in a Florida ad that showed what appeared to be a prisoner with a button reading "I voted."
Santorum complained it falsely implied he supported voting rights for incarcerated felons and that Romney lived with a similar provision while governor of Massachusetts. Romney asserted he opposed the provision, but was powerless to change it because of a Democratic majority in the legislature.
Familiar attack ad territory. The ad grossly oversimplifies the critical but complex issue of spending and growing debt, instead going after gimmicky and misleading targets. Few legitimate economists believe denying a raise in the debt ceiling is a prudent way to curtail spending. In point of fact, the crisis over the debt ceiling undermined faith by credit rating agencies that the U.S. political system can solve this problem.
Foul or no foul:
The solution to long-term debt will require mature debate over reform of major entitlement programs and ways to prune defense spending. As the Congressional Budget Office notes, some combination of tax increases and benefit cuts will be needed to do the trick. But until politicians on both sides of the aisle level with the American public, true progress on the debt will prove illusive.
Highlighting old standbys like the "Bridge to Nowhere" -- while scoring political points -- misses the mark.