As a couple of reporters crowded into a U.S. Capitol elevator with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Debt, one of his new colleagues felt compelled to offer his review of Toomey's debut floor speech.
"Magnificent," Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., declared. "And you can quote me on that."
"I think I saw you sleeping in the back," Toomey chided, in his typical self-depracating manner when discussing his budget-heavy speechifying.
Barrasso replied: "The country should be awake to the words of this man."
And so Toomey got his introduction to speaking on the Senate floor today, with the accompanying over-the-top back-slapping from fellow senators -- how many "esteemed" colleagues can one person really have? -- in the world's greatest deliberative body.
Toomey's speech was fairly brief and given in support of his debt limit bill, which was offered as an amendment to the patent reform bill on the Senate floor this week. It's unclear if and when Toomey's proposal -- which would make debt service payments a priority for the federal government to avoid a default if Congress fails to raise the limit on the national debt before we hit the cap -- will be voted on because of the vicissitudes of the Senate, but he at least got to talk about it in a new forum.
Toomey hit the usual high notes: We shouldn't give Uncle Sam a new credit card when he's already maxed out his old ones without a few preconditions to get our federal spending under control. "We need to really fundamentally reexamine the spending that we've been engaged in," he said.
Toomey would like a balanced budget amendment or some other severe process reform to do so, and his bill -- which has been attacked by Democrats as a plan to "Pay China First" even though most of the debt is domestically held -- would give fiscal hawks a stronger negotiating ploy if the debt ceiling deadline looms. "I want to remove this false specter of a default on our debt so we can have an honest debate on how to get spending ununder control," he said.
Toomey also offered an homage to his state, from Philly to Pittsburgh and everything in between. In particular, at a time of controversy in the industry, he gave a shoutout to Marcellus shale natural gas play as an example of a newer industry that "I'm very hopeful will lead to an acceleration in job growth soon."
Following the speech -- and the praise from The Distinguished Gentleman From Wyoming -- Toomey offered a few brief thoughts on the budget debate. The House is set to pass a two-week extension to fund the government today, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will accept it to give negotiators more time to negotiate a longer term funding measure. (So set your government shutdown clocks to March 18.)
Toomey said he supports both the two-week extension -- which would trim $4 billion from proposed spending levels -- and the longer-term $61 billion cut the House passed last week. Asked if he could support any measure that offered lesser cuts than the House bill, Toomey responded: "Let's see how this plays out. At this point I'm supporting what the House sent over, and I hope that we can pass that."
As for whether he'd propose more cuts once a continuing resolution reaches the Senate floor, Toomey said he's not sure and "We're looking at a lot of things" in terms of budget cuts.
He also hasn't made up his mind on Johnstown's National Drug Intelligence Center, which we've written about in this space before. The facility, first brought to the area by Rep. John Murtha, was defunded in the House bill and Toomey's counterpart, Democrat Bob Casey, has announced that he will attempt to save it in the Senate.
"We’re in the process of studying that trying to determine what the appropriate action is," he said. Toomey said his and Casey's staffs have spoken about it and he personally hasn't yet discussed the issue with Casey, "but I'm sure I will."