By Mike Wereschagin
Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey yesterday accused Democrats of "demagoguery" for criticizing his positions on Social Security and deregulating the financial instruments some blame for deepening the recession.
Toomey, a former Lehigh County congressman, said he still supports a law that exempted derivatives from some of the laws governing securities. He noted the law -- the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 -- passed the House by a vote of 377 to 4, passed the Senate unanimously and was signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.
"That bill did absolutely nothing to cause the financial crisis, and no credible person has tried to make that argument," Toomey said between campaign stops in Butler and McCandless. Asked whether he'd vote for it again, he said: "Yes. I think all 377 (House members) would vote for it again."
State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn said Toomey, a former derivatives trader, was "working for" the financial industry when he spoke in favor of the bill.
"He took a unique and aggressive role in the deregulation of derivatives, which is the instrument that helped bring down the economy," Burn said.
A Franklin & Marshall College poll released today shows Toomey leading Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Delaware County, 40 percent to 31 percent among likely voters. The same poll shows 37 percent of registered voters approve of the job President Obama is doing. Grim polling numbers for Democrats in other states have bolstered Republican hopes of taking control of the U.S. House and gaining Senate seats in November.
"We are a center-right country. We have been for a long time," Toomey said. He said GOP losses during the past two election cycles were reactions to an unpopular Republican president, rather than an endorsement of Democrats. "People were not embracing the liberal ideology of Barack Obama."
Toomey, who told the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday he never favored Social Security privatization, said yesterday he hadn't switched positions. He wants to allow young workers to save and invest a portion of their Social Security taxes, while leaving the system unchanged for older workers.
"I object to that term (privatization). I think it's a misleading term. It's been used by the left to demagog the issue and to completely mislead people about the kind of reforms to Social Security that people like me have been advocating," Toomey said.
A similar plan proposed by President George W. Bush failed in 2005, and some of the plan's opponents confronted Toomey at the campaign stop in McCandless. Maryellen Hayden, the former head of Allegheny County's chapter of ACORN, which was reorganized as Action United, wore a Toomey campaign sticker, held a Toomey campaign sign, and asked him to clarify his Social Security stance.
Toomey told her his campaign would get her "all the information you need." On the roadside near the rally, Sestak supporters waved campaign signs and a Democratic operative who has followed Toomey's tour through the state held a mock "Wall Street" street sign.
In speeches in Butler and McCandless, two of four Western Pennsylvania stops on Toomey's statewide bus tour, he blamed the stimulus bill for stifling economic recovery. He noted the bill was sold in part as a way to keep unemployment below 8 percent. The jobless rate hasn't been below 9 percent since May 2009.
"There's no recovery. There's no real economic growth," Toomey said. In an interview later, he compared the stimulus to "taking a bucket of water out of one end of a pool, pouring it into the other end of the pool and thinking you're going to raise the water level."