As President Donald Trump and Congress undertake an overhaul of the U.S. tax code this fall, Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is likely to be a key player in the effort.
Toomey brings a passion for tax policy and years of experience as president of the conservative group, Club for Growth.
He’s also a Republican senator with credibility among Tea Party conservatives and ties to moderates in the party, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. And he won’t have to seek re-election for more than five years, giving him a measure of insulation from political damage in a turbulent year.
Toomey sat down with me last week to talk about his goals for the fall term. I asked about the White House dinner he attended last week, when he was one only of only seven senators summoned to eat and talk tax policy with Trump.
Toomey and GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin lingered after the others left.
“The president said, ‘Hey, have you guys ever seen the Lincoln bedroom? It’s really unbelievable.’ And I said, ‘Well, as a matter of fact I haven’t,'” Toomey said.
Toomey said he enjoyed the tour, but the fact that Trump felt comfortable enough to offer it says something about Toomey’s handling of their relationship. In a tough re-election campaign last year, Toomey criticized Trump and managed to keep some distance from him without becoming his enemy.
When I asked about his relationship with Trump, he said he wants to work with him, though he acknowledged he’s as puzzled as anyone else by some of the president’s moves — including his recent coziness with Democratic leaders.
“The president is, shall we say, unpredictable?” Toomey said. “My attitude is that the Senate has a tremendous opportunity here. We’ve been wanting to do tax reform for a very long time.”
“I’m just going to do my job and try be part of getting [a tax bill] to the president’s desk, and, if we can do that, I’m very confident he’ll sign it,” he said.
Toomey said he wants a bill that lowers corporate and individual rates and simplifies the tax code. He wouldn’t say whether he thinks deductions for home mortgage interest or charitable donations should stay on the books.
“Many of the individual write-offs and loopholes and deductions do have a tendency to distort and pick winners and losers,” he said, “But I can’t give you an opinion on any one item by itself, because it’s all going to occur in an overall context.”
Toomey also said he wants children of immigrants in the DACA program protected from deportation, but that the effects of any such plan on other aspects of immigration must be carefully considered.
“If you grant legal status to a large segment of the population that is here illegally, you’re sending a message around the world that if you can make it into America, even illegally and just wait it out, eventually you’ll be given legal status,” he said.
Toomey, who said that could provide an increased incentive for illegal immigration, said steps should be taken to enhance border security.