The Spectacle Blog

Santorum Says He Would Have Opposed Bush Era Spending Spree Had Tea Party Existed

By on 2.10.11 | 4:17PM

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, a potential 2012 presidential candidate, told me that he would have fought the Medicare prescription drug plan and other spending during the Bush administration if a Tea Party had existed to back him up.

By now, it's become conventional wisdom that Bush era Republicans lost sight of their small government principles when they had unified control of power in the early part of the last decade.

Santorum was a leading Republican in this period, and during that time voted for the Medicare prescription drug plan and supported subsidies for dairy farmers. I asked him to respond to the criticism that he was part of the problem.

"I said this to a Tea Party group the other day," he recounted in an interview at CPAC. "I was a conservative in Congress pushing for us paying for the prescription drug plan and cutting subsidies and doing everything that every person in the Tea Party I think would love to see done. Some guy asked me, ‘Why didn't you do it?' I said, ‘Because you weren't out there helping me.' It's very easy for folks to say, ‘Well, 10 years ago, you should have done this.' Where were the people at the rallies saying that we were spending too much? Where were the voters to come out and say, ‘We need you to do more of this?' It didn't exist. Look, Congress follows, it doesn't lead. I saw that. I was out there trying to lead and getting as much as we could do done. But I could only go so far because owe didn't have a Tea Party movement that was moving the country in that direction. "

He continued, "I look at my record and I'm very proud of what we were able to accomplish in the context of a country that was not out there clamoring for Social Security reform. You know, in 2005 when President Bush said ‘let's do Social Security reform' I jumped and tried to do it. And I got my butt kicked for doing it. And I did the same thing on Medicare. I did the same thing on Medicaid. I did the same thing on welfare. Is there was anyone who was out there trying to reform the real problems in Washington, the entitlements, it was me. But they weren't exactly piling out in the streets saying, ‘Yay, Rick.' In the end, I lost my election."

I followed up by asking him about his support for dairy subsidies in the form of the Milk Income Loss Contract program.

"It was a different time, number one," Santorum said. "Number two, the milk program, compared to Social Security and all the entitlement programs was a small program about an industry that was struggling in America -- the small farmer in that part of the country. My feeling is, sure, we can have a milk program that has a concentration of milk into big super duper farms in the South and in the West, and we will continue to see the deterioration of rural Pennsylvania, rural New York, and other rural areas. And if people are fine with that, that's fine. I think there's something to be said for having viable businesses in that part of the country to compete.

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