Rick Santorum: “I Was Basically Pro-Choice All My Life, Until I Ran for Congress”

In a 1995 Philadelphia magazine feature, the 2012 presidential candidate was depicted as a Newt Gingrich acolyte, a Congressional bully, a class clown … and someone who changed his mind about abortion because of “science and religion.”

SANTORUM DUCKS INTO HIS CONFERENCE ROOM, where a group of low-income housing advocates from Philadelphia are waiting to talk to him about the welfare bill the Senate passed the day before, the one Santorum calls “the bill I put together.”

Indeed, Santorum was highly praised for his work. Wyoming Senator Alan K. Simpson, in a press conference just after the bill had passed, called Santorum’s work as the floor manager “a sterling performance. One that I have not seen in 30 years of legislating.”

But his actual role on the floor is a matter of some debate. “Santorum was brought in by Gramm to help rewrite the existing welfare bill, which was fairly moderate, and make it more stringent,” says a senior-level staffer to a Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which drafted the bill. “But he had no idea what he was doing out there, and in the end, the final bill that passed was similar to the original one.” As it turns out, the only amendment Santorum added to the bill on his own was an anti-privacy clause that will grant police departments access to the addresses of welfare recipients who are fugitives from the law.

Now, Santorum slaps a palm against his chin and fields a question from a 50ish woman. “It sounds as though Community Development Block Grants may be threatened by this,” the woman says.

Santorum tilts his head, seemingly confused, and holds the pose for a second. And then he rolls his eyes. “I’m not familiar with that one,” he says.

“But…it says here…” the woman stammers, pointing to an article from the day’s paper.

Uh, no,” Santorum says. That closes the matter. A few minutes later, he checks his watch and stands to leave. “Thank you very much,” he says.

According to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Washington think tank, the new Republican formulas do not benefit any of the Northern industrial states. Senate cuts will table Medicaid funding in Pennsylvania by up to $2.5 billion over the next seven years, amounting to an 18 percent cut. Cuts in earned-income tax credits to working-class families in Pennsylvania will result in an average tax increase of $327 per taxpayer. Perhaps worst of all for Pennsylvania, which has the second-highest elderly population in the country, is the GOP Medicare plan, which the Department of Health and Human Services has estimated will cut funding to the state by $15 billion over the next seven years.

“Santorum is the only politician in this state—Democrat or Republican—who is happy with the impact the Contract With America will have on Pennsylvanians,” says Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah. And Santorum practically admits as much. “The Contract is not supposed to help or hurt Pennsylvania per se,” he says. “It’s a national plan. And spending cuts are something we’re just going to have to take.”

SANTORUM WON THE 1990 CONGRESSIONAL election against Walgren by 4,000 votes. Late that night, when a TV reporter called the Republican National Committee for tallies, the RNC spokesman couldn’t remember Santorum’s name. But it didn’t take him long to capture national attention. By March 1992, he was leading a group of freshmen who called themselves the Gang of Seven, demanding that Speaker of the House Tom Foley make public the list of Congressmen with overdrafts at the House Bank. Santorum and his Gang raised popular ire over what amounted to very little money and played off minor, perfectly legal negligence—essentially a few hundred dollars for some members in interest-free loans—as crude dishonesty. But Santorum seized the moment and took to the House floor, addressing Foley and the Democratic leadership as “Big Brother.” He posed for an RNC-sponsored poster of the Gang of Seven that looked like a thuggish, white-collar Nike ad. He appeared on Donahue.

This is the one moment in his life that Santorum will permit himself to describe as pivotal. He’s right, of course, it did make a splash, although not quite in the way he says it did. “I can’t tell you how hard that was,” he said. “Older members told me I couldn’t get away with it. I had a member beg me not to do it; one even threatened me.” But the outbursts won Santorum favor from Gingrich and the other Republican revolutionaries. “That was how Rick made his name,” says Senator Mack, a former member of the House. “Speaker Gingrich and I, we saw quite a lot of ourselves in how we used to go after Tip O’Neill.” Gingrich called and began inviting Santorum to weekly policy sessions with some of his closest allies—representatives Steve Gunderson, Nancy Johnson and Bob Walker, as well as Jim Pinkerton, the Bush Administration’s thinker-in-residence. “Santorum was sort of our Gang of Seven guy,” Pinkerton says. “He was there because he’s confrontational and very good at getting on the offensive on issues. In that way, at least, he and Gingrich are kindred spirits.”

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