The education of Sen. Pat Toomey

In his first US Senate speech March 1, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., summed his view of government's limited role in the economy: "Prosperity comes from the private sector. It doesn’t come from government itself."

We need a stable currency, strong property rights, limited regulation, low taxes, Toomey said. Not federal subsidies: “Government spending is the political allocation of capital rather than the allocation of free people and a free economy, and the political allocation is always less efficient than that of men and women engaging in free enterprise."

But Senators are expected to airlift billions back home. Can Toomey remain true to his free-market ideology? Or will he be seduced by the medical-industrial complex to advocate more government healthcare spending?

Today, Toomey visited the University City Science Center, the Penn-Drexel-and-others partnership that serves as a landlord to new healthcare industries, many of them started by researchers at the government-backed medical institutions in the neighborhood.

"We are very fortunate to have had support from the federal and state governments," Toomey's host, UCSC boss Stephen Tang, told us after Toomey toured Eli Lilly's Avid Radiopharmaceuticals and food-prep specialist Invisible Sentinel. He noted that many UCSC tenants benefit directly from state investments like the Benjamin Franklin and Bio-Advance funds, which have respectively been trimmed, and moved from a guaranteed to a negotiated funding base, by Gov. Corbett. Whereas universities like Penn and Drexel depend on federal research funding.

Toomey says he's studying the health care industry and its needs closely:  "During my US Senate campaign I became fascinated and extremely bullish about the life science sector in PA. The upside potential is huge," for jobs, profits and improved quality of life. So "I have been on a campaign here, since taking office, to learn as much as I can about this sector, so I can be an effective advocate" for healthcare investors and jobs.

What's he want to do? Toomey's first example: "Repeal the medical device tax," an Obama-backed levy on US- and foreign-made devices which Toomey said "can only have the effect of discouraging further investment."

I asked how repealing taxes like the medical-device levy is going to help pay for the nearly half of American healthcare that's purchased by taxpayer dollars (Medicare, Medicaid, military, and more.) "We have to change the way we pay for healthcare," Toomey said. But how, exactly? "There's been a lot of thought. It has not resulted in a lot of legislative action. I hope it will soon." Well, sure...

Toomey also wants to "make the Food and Drug Administration more responsive in a timely fashion" to new drugs and devices. Which either means giving FDA more money, or forcing it to spend less on its mission to protect the public.

I asked Toomey how he planned to follow Sen. Specter's role in bringing National Institutes of Health dollars home to Penn, Jefferson, and other Pennsylvania medical research centers.  "Specter was a big advocate for the NIH," Toomey allowed, though he added he wasn't convinced Specter could direct funding to favored hospitals.

"I think the NIH plays a very important role in funding early stage and primary resources," Toomey told me. That's "an important function we need to continue."

Will the Republicans in the Senate try to trim NIH funding? "Everything in the government is under scrutiny now because of the very desperate fiscal situation we're in. Whether it stays at the current level or not is hard to say. I would not want to see any precipitious decline in funding," Toomey said.

"He's learning a lot," said Tang, later.

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