Written by Thomas R. Eddlem
Texas Congressman Ron Paul stood by a campaign advertisement he released calling former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum a "fake" fiscal conservative in the February 22 CNN GOP presidential debate in Mesa, Arizona. The debate was the last scheduled candidate face-off before the February 28 primaries in Arizona and Michigan, and the ten-state "Super Tuesday" primaries March 6.
CNN Moderator John King asked Paul, "Congressman Paul, you've questioned the conservative -- fiscal conservative credentials of all these gentlemen but particularly this week Senator Santorum. You have a new television ad that labels him a fake. Why?"
"Because he's a fake," Rep. Paul replied, adding:
I find it really fascinating that, when people are running for office, they're really fiscally conservative. When they're in office, they do something different. And then when they explain themselves, they say, "Oh, I want to repeal that."
So the senator voted for No Child Left Behind, but now -- he voted for it, but now he's running on the effort to get rid of it. So I think the record is so bad, you know, with the politicians.
And, you know, nobody accuses me of not having voted for too much. They're always accusing me for not voting for enough.
Santorum acknowledged he now backs the repeal of programs he had voted for as Senator. "I think we've all had votes that I look back on I -- I wish I wouldn't have voted -- No Child Left Behind, you're right, it lead to education spending. That's why I've said that we need to cut and eliminate No Child Left Behind." Later in the debate, Santorum said of the No Child Left Behind bureaucracy: "I have to admit, I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake. You know, politics is a team sport, folks. And sometimes you've got to rally together and do something."
Santorum also faced criticism on his backing for funding for contraceptive funding. On voting to give money to Planned Parenthood -- the nation's largest abortion provider -- for contraceptives, Santorum explained: "I opposed Title X funding. I've always opposed Title X funding, but it's included in a large appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things, including... (BOOING) ... the funding for the National Institutes of Health, the funding for Health and Human Services and a whole bunch of other departments. It's a multi-billion-dollar bill."
But former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney didn't accept Santorum's explanation. "Senator," Romney said, "I just saw a YouTube clip of you being interviewed where you said that you personally opposed contraceptives but that you -- you said that you voted for Title X. But you used that as an argument, saying this is something I did proactively. You didn't say this is something I was opposed to; it wasn't something I would have done. You said this -- you said this in a positive light, "I voted for Title X."
Indeed, Santorum did boast in a Fox News Channel interview less than a week earlier that he had voted for federal contraceptives funding, including funding to Planned Parenthood. Santorum then engaged in a rambling, contradictory explanation of his vote:
I think it's -- I think I was making it clear that, while I have a personal more objection to it; even though I don't support it, that I voted for bills that included it. And I made it very clear in subsequent interviews that I don't -- I don't support that... (BOOING) ... I've never supported it, and -- and have -- and on an individual basis have voted against it.
Santorum also stressed that he had proposed a new federal program to promote abstinence education, Title XX, which " I did something that no one else did. Congressman Paul didn't. I said, well, if you're going to have Title X funding, then we're going to create something called Title XX, which is going to provide funding for abstinence-based programs, so at least we'll have an opportunity to provide programs that actually work in -- in keeping children from being sexually active instead of facilitating children from being sexually active. And I pushed Title XX to -- to accomplish that goal."
Paul countered that Title XX was just another centralized big government federal program that was not authorized by the U.S. Constitution. "I don't know whether you inferred that I would support Title XX for abstinence. No, it would cost money as a program. It's not a program of the federal government to get involved in our lives this way. If you want laws like that, maybe the state, but... (APPLAUSE) ... the federal government shouldn't even be having -- spending money on abstinence. That's way too much more. I don't see that in the Constitution."
Santorum's defense of his conservative credentials took the form of citing comparative ratings by Washington, DC beltway conservative organizations. "Ron," Santorum said to Paul, "The Weekly Standard just did a review, looking at the National Taxpayers Union, I think, Citizens Against Government Waste, and they measured me up against the other 50 senators who were serving when I did and they said that I was the most fiscally conservative senator in the Congress in the -- in the 12 years that I was there. My -- my ratings with the National Taxpayers Union were As or Bs. They were very high from the Citizens Against Government Waste. I got a hero award.... By the way, Ron, you ranked 145th in the bottom half of Republicans this year in a conservative voting record from that same organization."
Paul countered: "You know, that's always a cop-out when you compare yourself to the other members of Congress. The American people are sick and tired of the members of Congress. They get about a 9 percent rating." The Texas congressman and obstetrician stressed that many of those "conservative" ratings gave him lower marks for voting against foreign aid and bills that would curb individual liberties such as the Patriot Act, which explains why Santorum rated higher than Paul in some organizations' ratings. "If it's spending or on taxes I'm at the very top because I vote for the least amount of spending and the least amount of taxes, which means that some of the conservative ratings -- you have to realize sometimes conservatives want to spend money, too. When it comes to overseas spending, you vote for the foreign aid. Conservatives are quite pleased with spending money overseas. But if you're a strict fiscal conservative and a constitutionalist you don't vote for that kind of stuff and so you can't just go by the ratings."
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney also piled on to the surging Santorum's phony conservative record, noting in the debate "voting for raising the debt ceiling five different times without voting for compensating cuts. Voting to keep in place Davis-Bacon, which cost about $100 billion over -- over 10 years. A whole series of votes. Voting to fund Planned Parenthood, to expand the Department of Education. During his term in the Senate, spending grew by some 80 percent of the federal government."
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