Santorum: Fair Weather Friend of Free Markets

By Dave Smith, US Daily Review Contributor.

As the battle for the Republican presidential nomination continues its heated march towards this summer’s GOP Convention, the candidates continue to debate about who among them is the “true conservative” while slamming the Obama Administration over the still-weak economy, mounting debt, and expanding government.

Based on polling, press coverage, and overall hype leading up to the first contests, a surprise has emerged as the major opponent to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney:  former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.  A 4-year member of the House of Representatives and a 12-year Senator before his defeat in the Democratic wave of 2006, Santorum had little money and nearly no organizational strength prior to his controversial, razor-thin victory in the Iowa Caucuses (votes from many of the precincts went uncounted or were lost, and Romney was initially declared the winner on the night of the caucuses themselves).

While consistently a strict adherent to the conservative position on so-called “social issues” such as gay rights, abortion, and “family values”, Santorum’s economic record in Congress is much more mixed.  While campaigning, Santorum has been an outspoken critic of bailouts of the financial and auto industry that were begun during the Bush Administration and expanded under President Obama.  He’s also been a loud critic of government support to alternative energy companies, such as the much-maligned (and now bankrupt) solar company Solyndra.  He’s called for an end to stifling regulations, and he’s employed the rhetoric of free markets and private enterprise.

Unfortunately, a closer look at Santorum’s record suggests that aggressive government action to benefit specific businesses and industries was a policy that he often supported, if such policies were directed at interests he favored.  In his 16-year Congressional service, Santorum has supported mandates, regulations, tariffs, import quotas, loan guarantees, and tax credits to support favored interests.  At various times in his career, Santorum has taken active position in promoting government protection and support for industry sectors as varied as steel, ethanol, milk, and honey.

While he supported several free trade agreements later in his career, in 1993 Santorum had the opportunity to vote for what free market advocacy group, Club for Growth, has called “perhaps the most important free trade vote of the last generation”:  the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which linked Canada, the USA, and Mexico in the world’s largest free trade zone.  Serving in the House, Santorum became involved in the NAFTA debate as he attempted to get special protections for Pennsylvania industries, a tactic he would use often throughout his legislative career.  When he failed to acquire the provisions he wanted, he voted against NAFTA, explaining that he “represented the steel valley of Pittsburgh, which was a 71 percent Democrat district”.  It eventually passed without his support.  Since its implementation, US exports have increased dramatically, and consumers and producers alike have benefited from the freer, more competitive marketplace.

That “steel valley of Pittsburgh” is home to one of the State of Pennsylvania’s signature industries.  As a home-state Senator, Santorum consistently chose to advocate on behalf of protecting these industries from competition.  Among the protectionist and anti-market policies Santorum has supported in favor of domestic steel include “emergency” loan guarantees, import quotas, establishment of a federal government program for “monitoring and notification” of steel imports, and further tariffs and quotas imposed by the Bush Administration.  While certainly beneficial to steel makers, these quotas and tariffs resulted in higher prices for other industry sectors, such as automakers and other manufacturers – higher costs that are ultimately, of course, passed on to consumers.

Santorum’s tendencies to intervene in the free market don’t stop with the forging of steel.  He supported then-Senator Robert Byrd in efforts to erect barriers to imports that compete with domestic production, a policy that was found to be in opposition to our treaty commitments to the World Trade Organization; he’s also supported export subsidies for agricultural and other products.  He sponsored a bill placing a tariff on imported honey, with the collected money to go to the National Honey Board for research assistance.  His own campaign literature touts votes for milk price supports and his sponsoring of a bill to regulate gasoline prices.  He’s gone back and forth on ethanol subsidies – voting against them on occasions in the Senate and currently speaking against them, but as late as 2011 stating that he supported them “after 9/11”.  In 2005, he supported New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s amendment that would’ve placed a 27.5% tariff on imports from China if they did not devalue their currency.

Also noteworthy during his time in the Senate is the fact that Santorum supported anti-market policies with regard to labor.  His vote fluctuated on minimum wage increases, sometimes voting for, others against; however, his own campaign literature touted his authorship of a minimum wage increase.  He voted against a national right-to-work law, noting that Pennsylvania is not a right-to-work state and therefore it would not be fair for the federal government to free Pennsylvania residents from compulsory union dues.  He also voted against repeal of Davis-Bacon, which requires government contractors to pay “prevailing wage” – even in federal disaster areas such as post-Katrina New Orleans.

As Santorum has continued his challenge for the GOP nomination, his record has become the topic of increased scrutiny.  This record shows that time and again, Santorum supports intruding on the free market with tariffs, quotas, and subsidies to lavish benefits on his favored industries and protect them from competition, while leaving taxpayers and consumers to foot the bill.  Meanwhile, he criticizes those who pursue similar policies with different sectors of the economy.

That’s crony corporatism, not competitive capitalism.  Santorum is indeed a fair weather friend of free markets.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*