Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) talked with Fox News Radio's Guy Benson about his three phase plan to reopen his states local economy. Saying "It is clear we are past the peak" of Coronavirus. Toomey furthered his comments by saying, It's time to "Carefully Begin The Process Of Resuming Economic Life"

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Full Transcript:

Guy Benson: We are back. Thank you for being here. Join me now is Senator Pat Toomey. United States senator from Pennsylvania, a Republican senator. Good to have you back.

Sen. Toomey: Thank you, guy. Thanks for having me.

Guy Benson: So a lot of governors around the country are in this process of trying to figure out exactly what reopening looks like in their states. You have been involved, not just the federal level with the president's task force, but you've been talking with leaders in your state, including the Democratic governor. Just maybe if you would, give us your overall thoughts on how this ought to go on a national scale and maybe some of the ins and outs of what you're learning in Pennsylvania.

Sen. Toomey: Yeah, sure. Thank you. Well, first of all, I think it's kind of very, very significantly from state to state, because, of course, states are so, so differently affected. New York probably has half of all the cases in the country and Montana. You know, it's not even a blip. So obviously what's suitable in one place is not necessarily suitable in another in Pennsylvania. We've got some regions of the state where there's a very significant number of cases. And then we have regions where there are almost zero. So my thought is, let's step back for a second and remind ourselves why did we close down our economy in the first place? The reason we did it was out of fear that if we didn't, the virus would spread so rapidly and so many people would get seriously ill that they would overwhelm the ability of our hospitals to treat people and we'd have a catastrophe. The wonderful news is in Pennsylvania anyway, and I think in most of the country, but definitely in Pennsylvania, that danger is no longer present. It is clear we are past the peak. It is clear that when we hit the peak, we were well below the capacity of our hospitals. It is clear that the numbers of cases and mortality is declining now steadily. And so my view is OK. The whole reason to do something as draconian and damaging as closing down our whole economy was to prevent this outcome of swamping our hospitals, since that's no longer a risk. Let's carefully begin the process of resuming economic life. So I've laid out good ideas.

Guy Benson: I just want to jump in real quick before you before you get to your plan as want to touch on something you just said. I think one of the elements that has been frustrating to a lot of people is what you just articulated is correct. But it feels like there has been some shifting of the goalposts among your titians and some in the media who the whole flatten the curve MONTRE for weeks was. We need to make sure that we have capacity in our medical system to treat patients with Corona virus. That was what we were told. The reason, the primary reason for all of this was to flatten the curve to sort of by ourselves some time and make sure that we didn't spike too quickly, too hot in such a way that you'd have people, you know, unable to be treated in hospitals and people sitting in hallways and being turned away because that fear was not realized. I would argue because of what we did, because of these necessary sacrifices. Now we're talking about reopening. But I think for some people, Senator, it's now sounding like that isn't enough anymore. And the reason the primary reason we were given for flattening the curve is now sort of morphing and changing where they're now saying it's still completely reckless and irresponsible to talk about reopening, even though what you just said is true. How how does that impact, you think, the public's mentality when they listen to people, when it sounds like the story is kind of changing as it goes along?

Sen. Toomey: Well, I hope people will be skeptical about an argument that, you know, that's shifting like that. I happen to think it was necessary to take this unbelievably draconian measure because we didn't know really what we were dealing with. And there was a real risk that we might overwhelm our hospital systems. But when it's no longer the case, when it's clear that that's not going to happen, I think we've got a responsibility to allow people to get back to work. But that's not to say you flip a switch and we're back to the way it was in January. Right. That's not what I'm advocating. And even if I were and even if we did that, that's not how people would behave. So I think a thoughtful progression, for instance, in the many contiguous counties in the rural parts of Pennsylvania, where there have been almost no cases at all and many, many counties, zero deaths. Couldn't we begin to say, OK, if you as an employer are able and you can demonstrate a willingness to protect your employees with the kinds of personal protective equipment that's appropriate for them and their work, some social distancing on the job, maybe wearing a mask. Follow the CDC guidelines in this regard. If you're able and willing to protect your workers and your customers, why can't you reopen, especially in a region where there's. Virus never showed up. I think, for instance, that's an example of something we could do in Pennsylvania. We could proceed to that. I think we could have done that some time ago.

Guy Benson: What about Governor Wolfe, the saying? Does he agree with you on that front? What are we learning? Governor?

Sen. Toomey: So I think he's getting there. I think he's not quite there. But yesterday he declared that most outdoor business is, as long as they comply with these safety protocols, can resume activities. So I think that includes car dealers and nurseries and golf courses. So that's progress. Unfortunately, his general more the more the broader, more general opening awaits subjective decisions that he's going to announce on May 8th. And for the life of me, I don't understand why. You know, businesses that can operate safely today have to wait to make a. And then I don't know what the decision will be.

Guy Benson: We've seen some images in Harrisburg. There was a big protest there a number of days ago. There were some state legislators who were a part of it addressing the crowd and. I really have a mixed mind watching some of these gatherings and demonstrations, because on one hand I think there are absolutely people who are suffering so immensely, Senator, in terms of their business, their livelihoods. There are lots of terrible externalities that can arise from this type of financial distress. They shouldn't just be pooh-poohed as, oh, you know, it's not really affecting people's lives the way death was. Well, in some cases it is. So there is a desperation among a lot of people to get back to work that I'm fully on board with and making sure that politicians and a lot of people in the media who are able to work comfortably from home, who may not feel that same pinch, really can understand that and and raising their voices to make that point. I get it. I'm sympathetic to it. However, seeing some of the crazier signs out there and people all bunched together, no distancing few masks. I mean, what is your message to Pennsylvanians who you see at these rallies when you may understand the point that they're making, but may have concerns about the way they're making it?

Sen. Toomey: Yeah, I think it's important to make the point and to to communicate to the governor that if, you know, you have this view, that it's time we begin the process of reopening. But I would urge people that some caution is still in order. This is still a virus that that that does kill people. And fortunately, most people are very unlikely to suffer death as a result of this virus. But there's a significant subset of our population and we know who they are. Older people, people who have preexisting health conditions, as in certain varieties, are much more dangerous than others. And those folks are really vulnerable. And we've got to make sure we're protecting them. And we ought to be just cautious with one another. I think we can do that and still communicate that this complete lockdown has to end and end. It should end in a thoughtful fashion.

Guy Benson: Senator Toomey, let me ask you. This is a policy question. You're a free trade guy. So my one thing that I have been thinking about more carefully, especially because of what we're seeing and everything that we've experience as a country for the last month and a half or two months is. The free trade MONTRE of markets being the most efficient sort of decision maker for good decisions that benefit the most people. I think generally that is true. That's why I support free trade. I have to say people who are sounding the alarm about our dependance on China in particular when it comes to supply chains, especially when it comes to medical supplies, medical devices, drugs. There is a national security component where in some ways we are beholden to China. They have been a very bad actor on a number of fronts, especially on Corona virus. If we are overly dependent on any other country, especially a hostile country, it might be efficient markets wise, but it could be a threat to our country. How do you reconcile your free trade orthodoxy and your beliefs that I generally share with those types of concerns?

Sen. Toomey: Well, I think you're you know, you're putting it well. Their national security has to come first. And so we have to be careful and thoughtful about what what is genuinely and truly a national security threat. Now, honestly, when the president said that our importation of steel and aluminum is it is a threat to national security. I disagreed. We manufacture 70 percent of all the steel and aluminum we consume within our borders and most of the remainder we get from Canada and Mexico. So that's not really a national security threat.

Guy Benson: Totally agree

Sen. Toomey: But but when it comes to truly national security items, components, systems, materials that we would. As you point out. I wouldn't want to rely on any one country for those sorts of things for a variety of reasons and least of all an adversary. So one of the things we did in the keres Act is, you know, we're trying to get to the bottom of. Exactly. Believe it or not, it's it's hard to get your hands on exactly how dependent are we for, say, the ingredients of pharmaceuticals and the ingredients of generics versus branded drugs. We actually have twice as many facilities in the United States for producing the active ingredients as the Chinese have. But what we don't have is a comparison of the volume of these respective facilities. So we need this information. We have to get to the bottom of just how dependent our way for medicines, which we all would agree is is essential to national security. How dependent are we on China? And then we can decide what to do about it. But but we cannot expose the American people to risk a serious risk if there's a national security component.

Guy Benson: Last question, Senator. We had Leader McConnell on the program yesterday, and I was ask him about this controversy that was stirred because he talked about, you want to call them bail outs, payments, relief, whatever the term you want to use funding from the federal government to states and localities who are really getting hard-hit by coronavirus. They are stretched thin already in many cases and now are just getting totally hammered with budgets getting busted. Some Democrats, Democratic governors in particular, have interpreted what Leader McConnell said was we're cutting you off. Good luck. If you go bankrupt, your failed tough luck. That's not really what McConnell said. I think he clere to clarify that on the show here yesterday. What he's saying and that makes sense to me. Providing some of that relief and assistance related directly to her on a virus is something that he is open to. What he's not open to is writing giant checks to some of these cities, counties, states that have been very badly run in a fiscal sense that have all sorts of preexisting woes in terms of their budget and unfunded liabilities and pension problems and all of that. He doesn't want federal taxpayers to bail out the bad decisions of. Governors and states that pre-date coronavirus in any of the current crisis, I would imagine you agree with that sentiment. The question is how do you how do you craft a bill in, let's say CARES Act 4.0 5.0 that gets the targeted funds to where they need to go that are fair minded without making that money so fungible, or where governors start asking for so much money that they're trying to paper over unrelated problems?

Sen. Toomey: Yeah. It's a very good question. And and it's very real. You know, state of Illinois is asking for 10 billion dollars for their underfunded pension plan. Now, whose fault is it that their pension plan is underfunded? That that was wildly underfunded for years before anyone had ever heard of covid?

Guy Benson: I live there. That's what I remember.

Sen. Toomey: Yeah. So, you know, that is just ridiculous on the face of it. And I would point out we already sent one hundred and fifty billion dollars to the states to reimburse them for all Koven related expenses that they incur. That was an absolutely unprecedented. I think a very major contribution from federal taxpayers. So the question becomes a more difficult one is are we should we take on the responsibility of replacing the lost revenue? When when a other another level of government, whether it's local or whether it's at the state level, experience is an economic problem. Difficulty like these circumstances that cost them revenue that they would normally be able to count, count on. Is that something we should replace? We had the federal government. And I think that's a tough question. And I'm I'm I'm I I approached this with serious skepticism. It inevitably does introduce a moral hazard. You know, we've got a lot of states that have rainy day funds. States that are fully funded pensions. They've been prudently managed. They really don't need money. Then you have states that do not meet those criteria. They really would love to have money. But you know what? All states also have their own power to tax. They have the authority to do that. So to municipalities. And if the level of services they're providing is is so essential that everybody wants it, then presumably people would be willing to pay the tax necessary to pay for it. And if the federal government steps in instead, that doesn't mean taxpayers aren't going to pay for it. Right. It's just going to happen with a different distribution of taxpayers and maybe at a different time because we might borrow the money in the meantime. But one of the problems when the federal government steps in and provides this slug of revenue is it really makes it difficult for residents of any given state to hold accountable the people they elect, you know, who's really responsible for running the state government. If there's a federal backstop and bailout that's available. You know, is is this fiscal imprudence something that the elected officials should be held accountable for? You know, if they're going to get bailed out anyway, what about a state that has been prudent and thoughtful and, you know, they didn't have maybe all of the staff and services that some other states had. But they're able to get through this. Well, how are we supposed to evaluate that? So I think it raises a lot of tough questions and we need to proceed very, very cautiously. It's one thing to reimburse states for covered expenses that that didn't bother me. It was in the big bill we passed. But to this, the replacement revenue lost revenue. That's a tougher one.

Guy Benson: Yeah, I think that's exactly where this debate is headed. And I share a lot of the skepticism that you just articulated there. Senator Pat Toomey, U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, a Republican, my guest on the Guy Benson Show. Senator, thank you. Looking forward to next time.

Sen. Toomey: Thanks for having me, guy.