Ron Paul’s misleading ad: Rick Santorum is ‘fake’ fiscal conservative

at 10:00 AM ET, 02/23/2012

Santorum voted to send billions of our tax dollars to dictators in North Korea and Egypt, and he even hooked Planned Parenthood up with a few million bucks. Rick Santorum, a fiscal conservative? Faaake.” — New ad from Ron Paul campaign, released Feb. 21

Santorum has arguably claimed the mantle of GOP front-runner by virtue of winning the most primaries and polling at or near the front of the pack in Michigan and Arizona, where the next contests take place. So his rivals are taking aim at his record, mainly by attacking his fiscal policies.

Ron Paul has gone perhaps furthest in this regard with his latest ad, which suggests the former senator supports ruthless dictators and abortion services. The video only mentions spending, but it’s actually a two- or maybe three-for-one for all intents and purposes, since it questions the candidate’s social and foreign policy values.

We looked at Santorum’s record to find out whether Paul’s video misleads voters. (Note: Paul was asked to defend this ad in the CNN Debate on Wednesday night and he gleefully repeated the claim that Santorum is a “fake.”)

The Facts

The Paul campaign provided a list of five bills dedicating money to Egypt and North Korea — in one case, just Egypt. Each measure passed at least one chamber of Congress with a yes vote from Santorum.

A 2010 report from the Congressional Research Service notes that Congress appropriated an average of $2 billion a year in foreign assistance to Egypt since 1979 — more than any country except Israel. That’s no surprise considering that Egypt became one of the strongest Middle East allies for the U.S. around that time, when it signed the Camp David peace accords with the Jewish state.

ProPublica provided a good summary of the funding relationship early last year. The gist is that U.S. officials considered Egypt funding vital to its military interests — for example, allowing U.S. Navy ships to enjoy expedited processing through the Suez Canal — and to maintaining a semblance of peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

As for North Korea, a report from the Congressional Research Service shows that the U.S. provided about $1 billion in assistance to North Korea between 1995 and 2008. Sixty percent of the money paid for food aid, while 40 percent went toward energy.

The U.N. warned in 2008 that international food donations were necessary to avert a “serious tragedy” in North Korea. The international governing body’s World Food Programme cautioned that year that “food shortages and hunger had worsened to levels not seen since the late 1990s,” roughly the same time Santorum voted yes on aid to the nation.

It’s likely that Santorum voted for aid in hopes that the U.S. could persuade North Korea to abandon plans to develop nuclear weapons. The Congressional Research Service noted in its write-up that the U.S. had a history of tying fuel aid, and sometimes food assistance, to the rogue nation’s willingness to dismantle its nuclear program.

The service said this in a 2009 report:

The provision of aid to North Korea has given Congress a vehicle to influence U.S. policy toward the DPRK. From 1998 until the United States halted funding for KEDO [Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization] in FY2003, Congress included in each Foreign Operations Appropriation requirements that the President certify progress in nuclear and missile negotiations with North Korea before allocating money to KEDO operations.

It’s important to note that the U.S. has always attached strings to its foreign assistance for Egypt and North Korea — although the regimes in those countries continuously tried to loosen those strings. This type of foreign policy doesn’t jibe with Paul’s non-interventionist — some would say isolationist — views. But the candidate goes a step too far by suggesting that the only point to consider is that the money went to nations ruled by dictators.

So how about the Planned Parenthood funding?

The Paul campaign provided a list of bills Santorum voted for that provided money for the organization, the first of which was a 1996 omnibus appropriations measure that included funding for Title X. The measure included a huge number of other provisions, including funds for counter-terrorism, violent-crime reduction programs, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Six of the nine spending bills Paul’s campaign pointed to were similar: consolidated appropriations bills that involved much more than Title X funding. Paul voted no on all the measures (with the exception of a resolution that only the Senate voted on), as he has done so many times in Congress on his way to earning the nickname “Dr. No.”

For good measure, we looked at Santorum’s fiscal ratings with various conservative-leaning watchdog groups to determine how well he holds up as a conservative on monetary policy.

The National Taxpayers Union graded Santorum a B+, lower than his GOP primary rivals (it doesn’t track governors, so no Romney grade), but better than the most Republican colleagues in the Senate during more than half his years serving in that chamber.

The Club for Growth ranked Santorum as the 35th most conservative Senator, well below most of his fellow Republicans, during the candidate’s last year in office in 2005 — although the scorecard takes into account other factors besides fiscal policy, such as trade, regulation and tort reform.

A white paper from the Club for Growth says that the former senator “has a mixed record and showed clear signs of varying his votes based on the election calendar,” adding that “his record is plagued by the big-spending habits that Republicans adopted during the Bush years of 2001-2006.”

In response to the new Paul ad, Santorum campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said Paul has no room to speak about fiscal conservatism, considering his habit of inserting earmarks into bills and then voting against them, only to see the bills pass — an apparent attempt to keep his record clean.

“The last person I’m going to take a lecture from on spending is Ron Paul – the number four earmarker in all of Congress,” Gidley said.

We determined in a previous column that Paul deserved three Pinocchios for suggesting he has never supported earmarks.

The Santorum campaign did not answer questions about the Planned Parenthood and foreign aid issues.

The Pinocchio Test

Paul can find legitimate ways to attack Santorum’s fiscal record without resorting to mischaracterizations about the candidate’s votes for consolidated appropriations bills. He earns two Pinocchios for suggesting his opponent’s intention was to support ruthless dictators or abortion.

Two Pinocchios

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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