Sestak = Michael Scott?

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Kevin Ferris makes a unique argument in today’s column. He says since winning the May primary, Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak has adopted the persona of lovable-but-bumbling Dunder-Mifflin regional manager Michael Scott.

He writes:

Start with the attacks on Toomey as a big spender during his time in Congress, from 1999 to 2005. A flier handed out by Sestak’s folks at a recent Toomey news conference pointed out that there was a $125 billion surplus when Toomey first took office, but a $412 billion deficit when he left. Devastating, right?

Republicans did spend irresponsibly during the Bush years when they controlled both Congress and the White House. But while Toomey is an unabashed promoter of tax cuts in order to spur economic growth, he also took a hard line on spending. For example, he was one of only 25 Republicans who voted against the $400 million Medicare prescription-drug program in 2003.

But let’s use Sestak’s reasoning and look at his side’s spending record. In 2007, when Sestak went to Washington with the new Democratic majorities in Congress, the deficit was $160 billion. This year’s projected deficit is $1.5 trillion, almost 10 times what it was when Sestak took office. So you’d think Sestak would keep quiet on spending, or at least have a good explanation for his votes in favor of trillions in bailouts, stimulus, and record budgets and deficits. Apparently not.

Sestak will, in fact, be in Scott’s hometown of Scranton on Tuesday. But he’s not there to shop for office paper. Instead, he’s campaigning with former President Bill Clinton.


Mail call: Sestak edition

Congressman Joe Sestak stumped in Lancaster today, and his campaign just sent this press release out. Two trends I’ve noticed: Sestak is now “Admiral Sestak” on first reference in their missives. After that, he’s “Joe.” It’s interesting to me that they’re pushing  the military angle, but  simultaniously trying to be more informal.

Anyway, here’s the release:

LANCASTER, Pa. – One year after announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Admiral Joe Sestak reaffirmed his commitment to practical solutions to overcome the economic challenges facing working families, which must include investment in small businesses.

Joe was joined at La Cocina Restaurant on King Street by some of those hit hardest by the recession, including local business owners and an unemployed worker.

“A year ago today, I got into this race to fight on the side of Pennsylvania’s working families,” said Joe. “Middle class workers across the state are struggling because of failed choices that put the powerful ahead of the people.”

Congressman Toomey led the biggest spending spree our nation has ever seen, eliminating the “pay-as-you-go” system and supporting President Bush’s budgets that turned a surplus in a record deficit. During his tenure, the wealthy got wealthier and small businesses and middle class Pennsylvanians were left behind. Joe believes that Pennsylvanians deserve a clear and comprehensive plan for growth and job creation. The key to recovery, Joe said, is in practical policies that help bolster La Cocina and other small businesses, which create 80 percent of all jobs.

Joe has introduced legislation as part of his Plan for Pennsylvania Families to have a 15 percent tax credit for small businesses to increase hiring, a move that could create up to 5 million jobs over the next two years, as well as tax benefits to encourage investments in small businesses. In addition, he proposes increasing available credit to allow more entrepreneurs to start businesses. His plan includes permanently establishing the Small Business Administration’s Community Express Lending Program, which accounts for almost a quarter of women and minority small business loans.

“These are sensible steps that can put our economy on the path to recovery,” said Joe. “In the Navy I learned that solving problems requires a practical approach, and we cannot let politics or ideology stand in the way of helping move our economy forward to create the jobs Pennsylvania is looking for.”

The reality is that while Congressman Toomey may claim to be on the side of small business, his record says something else entirely.

Fact Check: Congressman Toomey’s Record against Small Businesses

Pennsylvanians deserve to know the truth about Congressman Toomey’s disappointing small business record. The facts are clear: he has passed on every major opportunity to support small businesses, unrelentingly supports the interests of big corporations and misrepresents his own small business experience while trying to cover up a career on Wall Street. If elected to the Senate, Congressman Toomey will continue opposing small businesses in favor of large corporations:


  • Spent five years in Congress, championing efforts that successfully cut the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) budget by 50% ($507 million in 2005 vs. $1.1 billion in 2000);
  • Voted to eliminate funding and increase small business fees on one of the SBA’s most popular small business loan program (7(a) loans); and
  • Voted to give only 5% of the 2001/2002 tax cuts to small businesses, but 53% to the top 1% of earners.


  • Helped write the law deregulating Wall Street that lead to the recession;
  • Voted for corporate tax loopholes to help big businesses close factories in the United States and ship jobs overseas; and
  • Supports a flat tax that favors the wealthiest Americans and renders small businesses unable to compete against major corporations.


  • Congressman Toomey has spent his career working for Wall Street and fighting for their special interests in Congress.
  • Toomey’s role in the chain of restaurants he cites as his small business experience was as an investor.
  • “In a 2000 sworn deposition taken in a lawsuit against Rockin’ Robin’s, an Allentown nightclub owned by Toomey and his brothers, Pat Toomey testified that he delegated the day-to-day running of the establishment to his brother Steven and was not aware of details… ‘For most of the period of ’91 in which Rockin’ Robin’s was opened, I was living and working in Hong Kong’ as a banker, Toomey said.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/9/10]
  • The Allentown Morning Call reminds us, Congressman Toomey was “still pursuing his financial career in New York City” when he and his partners opened the first restaurant. He later moved to Allentown, but left it to his partners to handle day-to-day operations. He then sold all of his shares in the restaurant chain.


  • Voted to cut congressional funding for one of the SBA’s most popular small business lending programs — 7(a) loans — which resulted in fees on small business owners replacing the congressional funding. As expected, following Toomey’s vote, the borrower and lender fees for the 7(a) program were increased — doubling the cost for many small businesses. [HR 4754, #328, 7/7/04]
  • Voted for the Bush Administration’s budgets, which cut funding for the Small Business Administration by 50% from 2000 to 2005. [S.Con.Res. 95, 5/19/04, #198; H Con Res 95, 4/11/03, #141; HCR 353, 3/20/02, #79; H Con Res 83, 5/9/01, #104; HCR 290, 4/13/00, #125]
  • Voted for the Bush tax cuts that directed less than 5% of tax relief at small businesses, but 53% to the top 1% of earners. Because only one percent of small business owners are among the top 1% of earners, under Toomey’s plan 99% of small business owners received almost no tax benefit from the two bills that cost approximately $2 trillion. [HR 1836, 5/26/01, #149]
  • Voted with the Bush Administration to cut funding for Export Assistance Center, which helps small businesses sell to other countries while staying in the United States. [S.Con.Res. 95, 5/19/04, #198]
  • Allowed the Bush Administration to bundle federal contracts to large corporations and not once meet federal requirements for small business set-asides in federal contracting.
  • Chose not to co-sponsor the bi-partisan Small Business Contract Equity Act.
  • Voted against tax credits for small businesses who provided pensions for employees. The amendment also would have allowed a three-year tax credit for small employers of 50 percent of the costs incurred in establishing pension plans and would have offered them a 50 percent credit for certain employer contributions to retirement plans on behalf of non-highly paid workers. [HR 10, House Vote #94, 5/2/01]
  • Supports a regressive flat tax that favors the wealthiest Americans and places an unfair burden on small businesses, many of which would be rendered unable to compete effectively against major corporations. [Morning Call, 3/18/98]


  • Voted to give federal loans to corporations that move offshore [HR 4818, #386, &/15/04]
  • Voted to give benefits to corporations dodging U.S. taxes by moving offshore [HR 4520, #258, 6/17/04]
  • Voted for tax loopholes that export jobs, making it harder for American small businesses to compete. [HR 4520, 10/7/04, #509]
  • According to MSNBC, even plans to partially privatize Social Security, which “could be a windfall for Wall Street, generating billions of dollars in management fees for brokerages and mutual fund companies.” [MSNBC, 12/28/04]
  • Helped write the law deregulating Wall Street which tore down barriers between banks and created the “too big to fail” banks. [HR 10, 7/1/99, #276]
  • Opposed a bill to tax bonuses to executives at bailed out banks. [HR 1586, Vote #143, 3/19/09; Club for Growth email, 3/21/09]
  • Opposed the Credit Card Fair Fee Act and said that preventing credit card companies from changing their rates on their customers “is a fundamental infringement.”
  • Wrote that he believes that foreign subsidies to car manufacturers are a good thing, even though they “would result in fewer American cars sold, and consequently fewer American auto workers.” [The Road to Prosperity, p. 112]
  • Supported NAFTA, which cost Pennsylvania 44,000 jobs, calling it “good for America” [Morning Call, 9/16/93]
  • Argued free trade would create jobs, while acknowledging that workers might be “displaced” [Morning Call, 12/5/99, 1/21/00]

Sestak on deficits; Rendellis

For months now, Republican Pat Toomey has labeled Democrat Joe Sestak as a big-spending liberal who’s voted to explode the federal government’s deficit. The Senate nominee tried to turn the tables during an appearance in Harrisburg this afternoon.

In a speech to the Pennsylvania Press Club, Sestak said by voting for President Bush’s tax cuts and budgets, Toomey was “practically pro-deficit.” He added Toomey “wants more tax cuts for the top one percent that will add 650 billion dollars to the deficit. My opponent has a lot of theories about the economy, but controlling deficits is not one of them.”

In contrast, Sestak framed himself as a fiscal moderate who wants to balance the government’s books.

Toomey’s campaign manager, Mark Harris, countered Sestak’s speech was “laughable,” and accused the Democrat of having a “selective memory.” Harris pointed out Sestak voted for the 2008  financial bailout, the 2009 federal stimulus package, the health care overhaul, and other measures that have boosted the federal deficit. Sestak defends most of those votes as emergency measures aimed at keeping the economy from sinking into a depression.

Harris took the speech as a complement, suggesting Sestak has co-opted Republican talking points in the face of the harsh political climate Democrats are facing.

The federal government ran a 1.4 trillion dollar deficit during the 2009 fiscal year. If you’re as confused as I am over who ran up more deficits, check out this helpful chart from the Congressional Budget Office. Additionally, CBO recently published out an executive summary of how the deficit has ballooned in recent years, and where federal spending is headed over the coming decade.

In much less wonky news,  I asked Sestak after the event whether Governor Rendell had ever taken him up on his pre-primary offer of  a hatchet-burying lunch at WaWa. (After Governor Rendell told our Politics as Usual podcast Sestak had “no chance of winning” the contest, Sestak said he looked forward to eating a “Rendelli” with the governor.)

Sestak laughed, and asked the gaggle of a dozen reporters if he was being taped.


Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak’s campaign says they raised $1.95 million during the second quarter. The bulk of that money – $1.6 million – was apparently brought in during the last month.

Spokesman Jonathon Dworkin says, “The response around the state to Joe’s message of putting working families first has been tremendous. We are especially encouraged by the generous support that allowed him to do so well in such a short period of time. As Joe crisscrosses Pennsylvania — like he did in attending more than 650 events from January 1 through the primary — we find that Pennsylvania voters are looking for the pragmatic approach he offers and not a return to an ideology that puts big corporations first in the hope that the wealth will trickle down.”

We haven’t seen numbers from Republican Pat Toomey’s campaign. Since they’re already running television ads, I’m assuming they’re satisfied with second quarter totals.

Toomey: keep drilling

Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey says it would be a mistake to scale back domestic and off-shore oil drilling in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Toomey says the BP spill is a “huge disaster,” and the company needs to be held accountable – but he says the United States needs to ramp up, not scale back, domestic oil exploration over the next few decades.

Toomey says he’s not minimizing the impact – he’s just concerned federal officials will overreact to it. “Something went wrong here, and we’ve got to fix it,” he says. “If there were regulators that tolerated practices that are not safe, then we’ve got to change that. We’ve got to absolutely make sure this never happens again, but at this point I think it’s a little premature to say exactly how we do that, because I’m not sure it’s entirely clear exactly what went wrong. So we’ve got to get to the bottom of that first.” To that end, the Republican says President Obama’s offshore drilling moratorium might have gone too far.

Toomey’s opponent, Democrat Joe Sestak, says he’s against expanding offshore drilling’s footprint.

Sestak says he supports Obama’s moratorium, and wants to see regulations tightened before offshore oil exploration is allowed to resume. . “Congressman Toomey is saying there’s no need for accountability,” says Sestak. “Just drill. That’s wrong.”

Rendell talked with Emanuel “3 or 4 times” about Sestak

Governor Rendell says he had several conversations with the White House about keeping Congressman Joe Sestak out of the Democratic Senate primary – but that he didn’t know the administration offered Sestak an unpaid position.

Rendell says he talked “three or four times” with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel about how to persuade Sestak to back out of challenging Arlen Specter. Rendell says he knows Democrats would have retained Sestak’s congressional seat if he ran for re-election, but says he’s now worried Republicans could take it over this fall.

Rendell calls the continued focus on the White House offer “much ado about nothing,”

The proposition gained new traction this week, with news the White House made a similar proposal to a Democratic Senate candidate in Colorado.

President Obama says the administration did “nothing improper” in using former President Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an advisory position.

Obama: job offer explanation coming “shortly”

President Obama was asked about the Sestak job offer at this afternoon’s press conference, but he didn’t provide much of an answer. “There will be an official response shortly,” he said, according to Fox News. “I can assure the public that nothing improper took place.”

Meantime, former Bush aide Karl Rove insists the issue has legs.  “Either Joe Sestak is lying and he was not offered a position in the administration in return for getting out of the primary,” he recently said, according to an LA Times blog.  “You know he’s a liar, in which case not worthy of public service. Or, he’s telling the truth, in which case somebody inside the White House committed a felony.”

Sestak has consistently refused to say anything else about the offer — but is promising to cooperate with any investigation that may take place.