Toomey: Don't risk shutdown over Obamacare funding

As some Republicans agitate for killing President Obama's health-care law by stripping all its funding, Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) backed a more incremental approach Tuesday.

Toomey, a staunch fiscal conservative, said he agrees with the goal of shelving the law, but does not think Republicans can realistically roll back the entire measure or erase its funding. He argued that the GOP should not risk a government shutdown this fall by insisting on those steps in exchange for a budget agreement.

"I'm totally in favor of the goal, but this vehicle isn't going to achieve it," Toomey said after meeting with the Inquirer Editorial Board. "That's not a tactic that's going to get us the outcome we want."

The fight over the law is one of the most contentious in Washington and has animated Republicans. Democrats have pointed to the benefits for many uninsured Americans and people with preexisting health conditions. Republicans see it as an expensive overreach.

"I do think that the fundamental premise and design and architecture of the bill is irreparably flawed," Toomey said.

But even if Senate Republicans had the votes for repeal, Toomey said Obama would never kill his signature domestic achievement, known to critics and supporters alike as Obamacare.

Toomey said he was focused on slicing out what he called "egregious" pieces of the law. For example, he and many lawmakers from the Philadelphia region, including some Democrats, have aimed for repeal of a tax on medical-device makers.

During his meeting with the editorial board, Toomey spoke about the health-care fight, Senate gridlock, and mounting violence in Egypt. He also voiced strong opposition to raising the minimum wage, an idea pressed by Obama and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat.

"It's a terrible idea," Toomey said. "It guarantees to prevent job creation for people who need it most - young people, young people with low skill."

Businesses, he said, can only "pay an amount of money that's commensurate to what a person's able to produce." Increasing pay would mean less hiring, he said.

Addressing legislative dysfunction, the freshman senator said his fellow Republicans had too often used filibuster threats to require 60 votes to advance bills, but Democrats had too often stifled GOP amendments.

On Egypt, Toomey said the military's killing of protesters "crossed the line" and called for ending aid to the Egyptian armed forces because the United States "can't be complicit in that behavior." But he added, "Frankly, I think it's better for Egypt, better for the United States, better for security in the Middle East, if the military wins this battle against the Islamists."

"The military is the most reasonable institution, organized institution, in a country that has absolutely no history of democratic or representative government," Toomey said, arguing that moving to democracy will take time and more than just one election. Guaranteed minority rights and institutions such as an independent judiciary and free press are also needed, he said.

The fact that Toomey ventured into foreign affairs when he normally focuses on fiscal issues speaks to the extent to which the debate over Egypt has gripped policymakers. He acknowledged that favoring the military is "a difficult position," but said, "We have to be realistic" about the situation.

Speaking about the Senate, Toomey said it is very easy to block legislation - he has used Senate rules at times to stop spending he has opposed - but added that he was frustrated by the frequent gridlock.

"On our side, we've been guilty of establishing a 60-vote threshold more often than we should," Toomey said. "On the other side, I'm certain that [Majority Leader Harry Reid] has blocked our ability to offer amendments much more often than he should."

Though Toomey said he was still working through his thoughts on the issue, he said Republicans should be more willing to let debate begin without requiring 60 votes, but that final passage of major legislation should still require a so-called supermajority, with more consideration of amendments offered by the minority party.

"Big, important things ought to require a broader consensus," Toomey said.

 


Contact Jonathan Tamari at jtamari@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari. Read his blog "Capitol Inq" at www.inquirer.com/CapitolInq.

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