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IgnatiusInsight.com Interview with Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum | Valerie Schmalz | June 29, 2005

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Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum is up for re-election in November, 2006, and is likely to face Pennsylvania Democrat and Roman Catholic, Bob Casey Jr., son of the late Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey. Early polls showed Santorum trailing Casey but more recent surveys show the gap closing.

First elected to the U.S. Senate in November, 1994, Santorum, 46, is a practicing Catholic, married with six children. He is the third ranking Republican in the party’s Senate leadership, serving as Republican Conference Chairman. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1990 at the age of 32. For more information, visit his Senate website or his campaign website.

IgnatiusInsight.com requested an interview with Santorum’s likely opponent Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., and hopes to offer one soon.

IgnatiusInsight.com interviewed Sen. Santorum by phone in early June, after the U.S. Senate reached a compromise on the filibuster of judicial nominees, and after the death of Terri Schiavo in April. Sen. Santorum backed the bill that was intended to require a new hearing in the facts of Terri’s case and visited with the Schindler family during Terri’s last days because he was in Florida on unrelated business. He was instrumental in passage of the Infants Born Alive legislation, which requires medical and clinic personnel to save babies born alive through abortion. He is also very supportive of so-called Snowflakes programs, which allow infertile couples to "adopt" frozen embryos by having them placed in the adoptive mother’s womb where they then develop and are born.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What do you think are the top three issues currently facing the country?

Sen. Santorum:
First and foremost are national security issues. The war on terror and making our country safe . . . is still the highest priority; that is unfinished business.

I think, in this country, we tend to see the fact we’ve had no terrorist incidents in a few years and think the problem has abated. I think that’s a false sense of security. I think there are a lot of people out there who still want to do us a lot of harm and we have to be very, very vigilant.

Second, I think–I would argue–is really health care. I want tie it into some of the concerns people are having with the economy, but I think a lot of it is focused on the rising cost of health care and the insecurity that people have with respect to health care. I’ve focused a lot of my time and energy on what we can do to reduce the cost of health care, with things like medical liability reform and, on the other side, things like health savings accounts. I’ve introduced legislation to do things on giving tax incentives to people who don’t have insurance by giving them tax credits, refundable tax credits, and other things to help them purchase health care. So, there are many things that we’re working on in the area of trying to make health care more affordable and accessible, while at the same time increasing quality.

For me the other area–there are so many, it’s hard to say a top three–but I would say strengthening the family. I think that’s a part of our agenda that I don’t think most people talk about, but to me it’s important that we strengthen the bedrock of our society. I think we tend to underestimate how important strong families are to a strong country. In fact, I’ve written a book about that, a whole variety of different policy proposals on how we can strengthen the traditional family in America and thereby strengthen our society.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Would you explain your anti-poverty agenda, including the Senate Republican Poverty Alleviation Agenda [info available here in PDF format]?


Sen. Santorum:
I fold the anti poverty agenda into this whole idea of strengthening the family because, to me, you’re going to deal with a lot of issues related to poverty if you can strengthen marriage and strengthen traditional families. If you look at the poverty rates among married couples, it’s in the low single digits. Whereas if you look at it among single head of households it’s four, five, or six times the rate it is among married households. The anti-poverty agenda includes things that are family-strengthening activities and marriage-promoting activities, but it goes beyond that.

In my book–the name of the book is It Takes a Family–I lay out a whole host of ideas that deal with different aspects of family life, economics as well as the culture, education, and social connectedness–all of which are important, particularly to those at the lower end of the economic strata. The reason is, they’re the ones who are most impacted by all of these macro-level ideas. So what we need to do is focus our overall policy in these areas on how we can affect them and the quality of their lives.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Would you explain your support of Social Security private accounts?

Sen. Santorum:
To me, it’s consistent with all the other things I’m working on, with the idea of promoting ownership and promoting stable, healthy families. For example, I’ve put forward a proposal called individual development accounts, which are matched savings accounts for low income individuals to help them purchase a home or start a small business or to get an education. I’ve proposed something called Kids Save, which is a proposal that every child born in America gets a $500 check from the federal government in a savings account that they can’t touch until they reach the age of 21. If you are lower income you can get an additional $500 a year–if you match it, if you can put money in there to match it, for up to $500 a year. So, it’s a way to give to those who have not achieved economic success and a way for their children to learn economic literacy–to understand the power of compound interest, to understand the power of investment. All of those things are vitally important–plus, it gives them a little nest egg to be able to use for later in life, whether it’s for a college education, or buying a home, or dealing with the sort of big events in someone’s life to help them climb the ladder of success.

What I say about Social Security personal accounts is just a continuation of that philosophy. Instead of having a system that is increasingly going to cost more and more money while recipients are going to get less and less from it because of the demographics of our society, this is an opportunity for younger workers–instead of paying 12.4 percent or more in the future to the federal government and getting a one percent or less rate of return on their money–for them to do better. This is a way for them not only to get a better rate of return on their money but also to own something and to be able to have a nest egg they can use to retire but also to fund the next generation.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you think your interest in this–I know this fits in with your entire philosophy–but because you have young children who are going to inherit this system, do you think that makes you think about the system a little more
?

Sen. Santorum:
I probably think about families and the future more than most. And, I think the fact is, I’m a Dad and I see the challenges that fathers and mothers have in raising children in the world today. I’m probably more tuned into that than most members of the United States Senate. I guess I would say that I’m proud of the fact that I probably work on legislation that has more long-term impact than most members do.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You recently said (and you made the news saying it) that you were starting to question the death penalty, particularly with the bishops’ new push against it.

Sen. Santorum:
That wasn’t why I was rethinking the death penalty. Actually, I’ve been rethinking the death penalty for quite some time, ever since a lot of evidence came out about DNA testing and related issues. It sort of wraps more into the concern I have for the casual nature in which we treat life in this country.

We’re having a debate now on embryonic stem cells and how we see the human embryo as sort of research matter. And we sort of dehumanize humans. Obviously an embryo is guiltless and has done nothing to offend anyone or harm anybody and that is fundamentally different than an individual who has greatly offended the laws of this country, violated the laws of this country and is a threat–or a potential threat–to the country and to individuals in this country. There are fundamental differences there.

However, it still is a little bit of a coarsening of our society when we allow people to die. And it’s my feeling that it is only in the most extreme circumstances, where someone is truly a continuing threat to society, should the death penalty be used. And I think that’s where I would draw the line. I think, in the past, we probably drew the line a little too much in favor of the death penalty and I would certainly seek to limit its applicability.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You are strongly pro-life. Can you summarize why you are?

Sen. Santorum:
I believe in the dignity of every human person. We are a creation of the Creator and we all have a human dignity that is unique and that should be respected and I think the Constitution speaks to that. I think we have turned our back on the Constitution, we’ve turned our back on our Judeo-Christian heritage, and we’ve turned our back on the natural law by somehow asserting the power of the majority over the weakness of the minority. And the minority in this case are people who are in the womb, who are in a petri dish, or are in a state of suspended animation and who cannot speak for themselves. And to me that is a sign of a decay in our society that we put our demands and our needs and our selfish wants over the rights–the life rights–of one of our brothers and sisters.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What do you think about the recent compromise ending the filibuster that was obstructing the appointment of the President’s judicial nominees?

Sen. Santorum:
I strongly believe the president has the prerogative under the Constitution to appoint qualified people to the judiciary and historically there has never been an ideological litmus test applied to those nominees. The test has always been the qualifications, the temperament, and the ability of that judge to perform the duties of a judge. Which is to apply the facts to the law and follow the law as it has been dictated.

That’s the traditional role of a judge and if we have judges who do that I don’t really care if they’re liberal or conservative. But now we’re saying that judges are actually more than that–they’re policymakers and we’ll only allow judges to go on the court who agree with us on a policy basis. I think that’s a very dangerous thing for our courts. It’s a politicization of the judiciary and we’ve seen, in fact, that people now on the court sort of see that as part of their license now–to enact laws under the guise of a judicial decision. And I think that’s a very dangerous thing and I think this debate has highlighted that.

IgnatiusInsight.com: A lot of people think the Terri Schiavo situation was a pretty good example of that politicization of the courts.

Sen. Santorum:
It was an excellent example. Here you have a judge and a series of judges–because the appellate judges went along with it–who thumbed their noses at the Congress. The Congress was very specific as to why it was passing this law and it was crystal clear. You don’t come back–for the first time in the history of the United States Senate–for an extraordinary session to pass a law to say that the courts shall review this case de nova, (in other words, have a new hearing), and then a district court judge in Florida just thumbs his nose and says, "Oh, I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to have a new hearing." That’s a remarkable feat of judicial fiat and usurpation of the power of the Congress and I think it was wrong, I think the judge was completely out of line. I know people have gotten upset when we’ve made calls for that judge to be held accountable, but the bottom line is the judge was exceeding his authority, in my opinion, and subsequent judges who affirmed his decision did the same.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you see this recent compromise about judicial nominees as holding at all in the Senate?

Sen. Santorum:
I think the compromise was a good compromise. I think it was an attempt to return the United States Senate to the precedent of 214 years, which is the minority had the right to filibuster, but simply was not going to on a routine basis based on ideology. I think, so far, so good. The nominations have moved forward as we expected. But, we’re going to wait and see; we’re going to wait and see whether the liberal special interest groups will continue to put pressure on the other side to break their agreement to not filibuster judges and we’ll go from there.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Many people wondered why you supported Sen. Arlen Specter in his re-election bid last year when he is pro-choice and Pat Toomey, a pro-life Republican, was challenging him. Can you explain that decision?

Sen. Santorum:
I know the difference between the Republicans being in the majority and the conservative agenda moving forward in the Congress versus Democrats being the majority and liberal ideas moving forward in the Congress. When Republicans are in control, we have a much better chance and, in fact, do move forward with conservative legislation and principles. And when the other side is in control, we don’t. We were in a 51-49 majority when I had to make a decision as to whether as to support my colleague or not and to me it was pretty easy. When you’re in a 51-49 majority you have work to hold your majority and that was an important part of my decision.

And the other important part of the decision was that I represent the people of Pennsylvania, and Sen. Specter was someone who had been in United States Congress for four terms and has done a lot of good for the people of Pennsylvania and is in a position to do a lot more good for the folks of Pennsylvania and that was something that weighed on my mind. Finally, the most important thing–I guess the most controversial thing that at least the social conservative movement is concerned about–is the issue of judges. And Sen. Specter has made it clear as long as I’ve known him, and certainly in the last few years, that he was going to work to move the president’s judges when he became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee should he be re-elected. And that has certainly proven to be the case; he has worked very hard to get the president’s judges out and has been a very effective voice for them.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Bob Casey is described as a pro-life Democrat. I want to ask you two things about that. Would you say that he is pro-life? Secondly, Howard Dean was instrumental in the decision for Bob Casey to run for your seat. What do you think that says about the shift in the political landscape, either nationally or in Pennsylvania?

Sen. Santorum:
I think it might say more about what they think they need to defeat Rick Santorum. I think they recruited someone who they thought was in the best position to defeat me. I don’t think it’s any shift in Democratic philosophy and I think it’s been pretty clear as they’ve come down to Washington and said he’ll [Bob Casey] be with the Democrats when they need him. And I think the good example of that is, he’s come out in favor of the filibuster of judicial nominations. As we all know, the premise behind the filibuster of judicial nominations has to do with the right to privacy, which is abortion. So, here’s someone who says he’s pro-life yet he supports filibustering judges who are pro-life because they’re pro-life. So I find that somewhat inconsistent with being a pro-life senator to go along with the Democrats’ judicial tyranny based upon the whole right to privacy issue and the Roe v. Wade decision.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Finally, it’s been said that in the upcoming election you will be in the fight of your political life. Is that true, and how do you feel about the situation?

Sen. Santorum:
I’ve been behind in every race I’ve ever run so this is not anything new to me. This will be a challenging race, no question, but I look at it as an opportunity to discuss my strong record of leadership and achievement in the United States Senate. It is an honor to be a Senator representing the people of Pennsylvania.


Want to make some comments about this article? Share them over at the Insight Scoop blog.


Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.



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