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Pa. Senator On Deficit Panel A Tea Party Favorite

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in February.
Alex Brandon
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in February.

The legislation that finally resolved the debt-ceiling debate earlier this summer also created a panel of 12 lawmakers charged with finding more than $1 trillion in cuts to the federal deficit.

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, dubbed the "supercommittee," has a big job to finish by a Thanksgiving deadline.

Among the six Democrats and six Republicans appointed to the group is Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), a Tea Party favorite who was swept into office with the GOP tide last year.

One thing you can say about Toomey: He's consistent. His political message has stayed the same through three terms as a representative in Congress, then as president of the Club for Growth and now as a member of the supercommittee.

"The guiding principles for me are going to be meaningful deficit reduction, in a way that's pro-growth," Toomey told the hosts of Morning Joe on MSNBC, a day after his appointment to the supercommittee was announced.

Toomey, a former Wall Street banker, told CNBC host Larry Kudlow that he tends to look for solutions from the "supply side." And in case anyone was left wondering where he stands regarding his work on the supercommittee, Toomey told Fox News, "Some kind of big tax increase is just not going to be part of this."

Room For Negotiation?

Toomey's talk of cutting spending, reducing regulation and balancing the federal budget without broad tax hikes has made him a hero to many in the Tea Party movement.

"I think he's exceeded our expectations," says Don Adams, president of the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC. "He's been a tremendous representative of the philosophy of limited government."

Toomey's consistency — a more critical word might be "inflexibility" — raises a serious question: Can he hold to his principles and still negotiate with fellow lawmakers on the supercommittee?

Adams says there is one form of revenue increase that fiscal hawks like Toomey can support — eliminating tax breaks for big businesses.

"I do think subsidies are something that can be looked at," says Adams. "I don't think that the American government should be subsidizing industry."

Toomey himself has made a similar point, so that could be a small patch of common ground for the supercommittee to start negotiating from.

An Eye To The Future

If a deal ultimately is reached, Toomey's involvement could help it gain broader support in Congress.

"If Pat Toomey says it's a good deal, it's probably going to be accepted as a good deal among other Tea Party-backed candidates or members of the House and Senate," says Chris Borick, associate professor of political science and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.

Borick says Toomey may have some motivation to compromise as the panel begins its work. The senator still has five years left in his term, but in swing-state Pennsylvania a high-profile assignment like this could frame Toomey's image for a long time to come. Borick says if Toomey is seen as an obstructionist, that won't go over well with voters in the Keystone State.

"He's got an opportunity here to define himself as someone that sticks to their core principles but is also pragmatic enough to see a good deal and take it when it's presented to him," says Borick.

As the committee begins working in earnest through the next few months, Pennsylvania voters may be watching closely to gauge Toomey's performance.

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Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.