Club for Growth calls Santorum’s record strong at times, but says sometimes politics trump principle

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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The conservative Club for Growth issued a mixed review of Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, applauding his record on taxes, but questioning whether politics would ultimately trump principle in his decision-making.

The report is the fourth of the Club for Growth’s Presidential White Papers, which examines each of the candidates’ records and grades them on their pro-growth policies, looking at several categories, including taxes, spending, free-trade, regulation and entitlement reform.

Club for Growth lauded the former Pennsylvania senator’s record on cutting taxes, noting only a couple “relatively small blemishes,” and concluding that in spite of those, his “record on taxes is very strong.”

On spending, however, Club for Growth is far less complimentary.

“Santorum has a mixed record and showed clear signs of varying his votes based on the election calendar,” the report says. Though Club for Growth sees Santorum as having had a strong record in his early years as a senator, and a similarly pro-growth record since leaving the senate, his middle years are problematic.

“His record is plagued by the big-spending habits that Republicans adopted during the Bush years of 2001-2006,” the report says, calling him a “prolific supporter of earmarks” and citing his votes in favor of No Child Left Behind, the Medicare drug entitlement program in 2003, and a highway funding bill with lots of earmarks, including the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska.

“In fact, in a separate vote, Santorum had the audacity to vote to continue funding the Bridge to Nowhere rather than send the money to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina,” the report says.

Club for Growth gives Santorum relatively poor marks on free trade. The report notes that he has voted in favor of free trade on several votes, “[b]ut beyond those pro-trade actions, Santorum has some real duds.”

The most prominent of those duds is a vote against NAFTA, the report says, which Santorum said at the time would be bad for several Pennsylvania industries.

On regulation, Club for Growth calls Santorum’s record “mixed.” Though he opposed card check and cap and trade, and supported drilling in ANWR, he has made some questionable votes in other areas.

One sticking point is subsidies for ethanol, on which Santorum has changed position several times. Before September 11, Santorum opposed ethanol subsidies. After, he said he changed his position in support of American produced energy. But in 2005, he voted to end the subsidies.

“If the original flip-flop was a principled stand taken by Santorum because of national security concerns, we’re at a loss to explain this flip-flop-flip-again vote,” the report says. Club for Growth points to a similar switching of positions on the minimum wage and government’s role in the housing market.

Santorum gets good marks on his entitlement reform policy for his early and continued support of reforming social security and his opposition to Obamacare. But his vote for the “massively expensive Medicare prescription drug program in 2003” is a splotch on his record.

On the subject of school choice, Club for Growth writes that “[w]hile Santorum’s school choice goals move in the right direction, he undermines that with support for too much federal government control.” The report points to his switching positions on whether or not to eliminate the Department of Education, which Club for Growth would like to see gotten rid of.

Santorum does well when it comes to tort reform, and his political activity and endorsements “have been nothing out of the ordinary or otherwise remarkable,” with the exception of his support for then-Republican incumbent Senator Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey in 2004, and his support for the more conservative candidate in the special election in NY-23 in 2009.

Ultimately, the report says, Santorum’s record is truly a mixed bag: “quite strong in some areas and quite weak in others.”

“As president,” the report concludes, “Santorum would most likely lead the country in a pro-growth direction, but his record contains more than a few weak spots that make us question if he would resist political expediency when it comes to economic issues.”