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Editorial

Santorum's true fiscal failures

He may be a budget hawk now, but his voting record as a senator shows he was in the GOP mainstream, ignoring the debt, shoveling borrowed money to the Pentagon and piling on tax cuts.

February 27, 2012
(Paul Sancya/AP Photo )

Rick Santorum's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination say he's a "fake" fiscal conservative because in the Senate he voted for pork-barrel highway projects and increases in the debt ceiling. Those votes aren't the issue. The real evidence of Santorum's fiscal irresponsibility is his support for policies that shifted the federal government from budget surplus to persistent deficit in the 2000s, even before the recession hit and made things much, much worse.

Santorum's votes to raise the debt limit simply allowed the government to honor commitments that Congress had already made to bondholders, contractors and beneficiaries. And his support for earmarks, while lamentable, contributed little to the debt lawmakers were amassing. But his voting record and rhetoric as a senator show that he bought in completely to President Bush's fiscal policies, which opened a spigot of red ink by combining trillions of dollars in tax cuts with ever-larger appropriations.

Indeed, Santorum appears to have voted for every "emergency supplemental" spending bill sought by the Bush administration, adding tens of billions to the deficit. He also opposed repeated efforts to reimpose the "pay-go" rules that were designed to hold down spending increases and tax giveaways. He even gave a thumbs down to a nonbinding resolution calling on Bush to include the cost of overseas combat operations in his annual budget, rather than paying for them through emergency spending bills with no offsetting spending cuts.

Such policies pushed Washington deeper into debt at a time when the economy was healthy, leaving it ill-prepared for the global collapse in 2008. Santorum was squarely in the GOP mainstream, ignoring the debt, shoveling borrowed money into the Pentagon and piling on the tax cuts long after the initial rationale — the nine-month recession of 2001 — was a speck in the rearview mirror.

Alas, Santorum also appears to be squarely in the mainstream among GOP presidential candidates now, offering a fiscal plan that's heavy on tax cuts and defense spending and light on real deficit reduction. According to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the plans offered by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Mitt Romney would stop the federal debt from growing, but the ones offered by Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would actually make it grow faster than it would under Washington's current policies. Rather than quibbling over nonissues from the past such as votes to raise the debt ceiling and to fund parochial highway projects, the candidates ought to spend more time critiquing one another's fiscal plans for the future.

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