Sen. Pat Toomey is serious about getting control of the debt. He has plenty of charts showing the problem. He wrote a book all about it. He's showing how serious he is by writing his own budget, a feat of staff work in and of itself.
But unlike his House counterpart Paul Ryan (R-Lightning Rod), Toomey isn't putting his name on wholesale changes to Medicare. Not yet, anyway. His budget, unveiled today, focuses on the next decade -- and it balances the budget by 2020. What it doesn't do is monkey too much with Medicare, nor does it reform Social Security, and it mirrors the Ryan plan in turning Medicaid into a block grant program for the states. It takes Defense Secretary Robert Gates' proposals for limiting the growth of defense spending. It reduces non-defense discretionary spending to 2006 levels -- the same as the conservative Republican Study Committee proposed in the House that set up the far-right goalpost for the continuing resolution negotiations. It makes some tax reforms without raising or reducing revenue.
Toomey explained that this wasn't a political punt, but merely a way to show that the budget could be balanced in nine years without insane cuts, an intellectual backing for the balanced budget amendment he helped write. But even this budget backs down somewhat from the BBA targets: That legislation mandates the budget be balanced within five years of ratification and caps revenue at 18 percent of GDP, while the Toomey budget brings balance in nine years with revenue at 18.5 percent of GDP.
Above all, it's a short-term supplement to the Ryan plan -- which Toomey said he'd vote for if it gets to the Senate floor.
"The focus of this budget is to demonstrate that we can reach a balance in 10 years, in part to buy us the time for the structural reforms that these other programs will need," he said.
It's unclear how much establishment GOP support the Toomey budget will earn. Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ron Johnson (Wisc.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Jim DeMint (S.C.) joined up for the press conference, and Toomey announced co-sponsorships from Tom Coburn (Okla.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and James Risch (Idaho) as well.
Rubio -- the telegenic freshman who is seen as an attractive future presidential candidate -- arrived late and did his best to steal the show. He spoke of his 80-year-old Medicare recipient mother and how the Ryan plan to turn Medicare into a "premium support" model is a way to save it for future generations.
"The political risks are dwarfed by the real risks of allowing Medicare to go bankrupt," he said. "The political risks do not measure up to the real risk of allowing Medicare over the next five to 12 years to have to cut benefits because it starts running out of money. I want to save Medicare. I want it to exist for now, for my parents, for my mom, for my generation and for my children’s generation."
The only ones who want to cut Medicare, he said, are Democrats who voted for President Obama's health care law, which cut about $500 billion from the growth of Medicare.
"Ironically, many of the people advocating doing nothing are the same people who advocated cutting half a trillion dollars out of Medicare," he said.
Nice stump line, but maybe he should have read the budget he was endorsing: It keeps those same Medicare cuts, while repealing the rest of the health care law. (As the Pennsylvania Democrats point out, Toomey bashed those Medicare cuts, too, in an ad attacking Joe Sestak.)
UPDATE 4:21 p.m.: Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos emailed with a fuller explanation of the Toomey plan vs. Obama's health care plan: "The rest of what Senator Rubio said was 'took the money out of Medicare to fund an experiment outside of Medicare.' The point is that we use the $500 billion savings under ObamaCare to help get Medicare on more solid financial footing. ObamaCare takes the $500 billion out of Medicare and uses it to fund something else. And that was the point: our plan saves Medicare, ObamaCare raids Medicare."