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Now, Santorum Has Company on Entitlements Now, Santorum Has Company on Entitlements Now, Santorum Has Company on Entitlements Now, Santorum Has Company...

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Homepage / campaign 2012

Now, Santorum Has Company on Entitlements

Rick Santorum can claim to have spoken in favor of entitlement reform back when that was a liability.(Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Recounting his calls to limit Social Security during the Bush administration, Rick Santorum said, "I turned around and there was nobody behind me.”

Santorum, the newest official entrant into the Republican race for president, wasn't making it up when he touted his conservative credentials Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press. The former senator from Pennsylvania is most famous for his strict stances on social issues like abortion (he doesn't believe in abortion in the case of rape or incest; he wants to prosecute doctors who perform abortions). But Santorum also has unabashedly called for limits on government entitlement programs like Social Security and welfare since he won national public office 20 years ago.

Those kinds of talking points against entitlements are now widely circulated among Republicans. They have put Democrats in the tough position of defending benefit programs that most observers agree need to be reformed and only argue about how much. A Republican like Santorum can now push for major shifts that at one time set him apart even in his own party. Now he has company.

 

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has made his plan to fundamentally change Medicare to a voucher-based system a conservative article of faith. Ryan has an advantage in pressing that point; Democrats have also noted the unsustainability of Medicare in its current form. "The sooner we deal with Medicare, the better off we all are," he said on CBS's Face the Nation. Democrats don't argue that point, but they do question whether Ryan's plan goes too far.

Santorum said Sunday that the government does a poor job of controlling the costs of the massive health care program. (He echoes Health and Human Services officials during the Bush administration, who were fond of saying that Medicare is “a big dumb payer.”) The private sector, not the government, should be controlling those costs, he said.

On Fox News Sunday, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he wants Medicare to stop paying for health care procedures and to give people incentives to get healthier. Higher-quality care equals lower costs. Again, Democrats generally don't argue that point. Former Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag spent years during the Bush administration talking about reining in health care costs by measuring the effectiveness of health care procedures and rewarding providers who made decisions based on both costs and benefits.

Pawlenty says there is more to come on his Medicare plan. But he is not shy about other entitlements he wants to cut. He wants to roll back the Social Security retirement age, end automatic cost-of-living adjustments, and put hard caps on Medicaid. His plan for drastic individual and corporate tax cuts would be complemented by drastic spending cuts, he said Sunday.

With only a hint of disdain, Santorum bemoaned the tendency for Republicans in the presidential primary to adopt the role of a "real conservative" and then revert back to more moderate positions during a general election. By Santorum-like standards, Pawlenty measures up on the conservative scale better than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, both of whom have expressed moderate positions on a variety of topics.

Santorum indicated that he doesn't need to worry about his own "real conservative" credentials. He can even claim he lost his last Senate bid because of them. "Losing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you," he said. "I’ve been principled. People know where I stand."

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