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FACT CHECK: Santorum a “big-government conservative”?

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Claim: "You're a big-government conservative." (Source: Rep. Ron Paul on former Senator Rick Santorum, ABC News Debate, 1/7/11)

Club for Growth's Verdict: Mostly True

Analysis: During a particularly touchy exchange at the ABC News debate, Paul attacked Santorum for being a “big-government, big spending individual.” To back up this claim, Paul offered four substantive examples: that Santorum voted to raise the nation’s debt limit five times, that Santorum voted against “right to work” laws, that he voted for No Child Left Behind, and that he voted for the Medicare Prescription Drug benefit.

Research shows that all four substantive allegations against Santorum are true. Santorum did indeed vote to raise the debt limit five times. (Source: Senate Roll Call Vote #54, 2006Senate Roll Call Vote #213, 2004Senate Roll Call Vote #202, 2003Senate Roll Call Vote #148, 2002Senate Roll Call Vote #209. 1997)

The “right to work” vote Paul is referring to is a little-known 1996 cloture motion in the U.S. Senate. The vote was on a bill called the “National Right to Work Act of 1995” that would “amend the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act to repeal those provisions of Federal law that require employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, and for other purposes.” Santorum, along with all Democrats and liberal Republicans like Jim Jeffords of Vermont, Frank Murkowski of Alaska, and his fellow Pennsylvanian Arlen Specter all voted against cloture, which would have allowed a final vote on the bill. (Source: Senate Roll Call Vote #188, 1996)

Paul is also right that Santorum voted for No Child Left Behind, which massively expanded the role of the federal government in education. (Senate Roll Call Vote #371, 2001) Finally, Santorum did vote for the new Medicare drug entitlement in 2003 (Source: Senate Roll Call Vote #459, 2003)

During the debate, Santorum rightly pointed out that he had voted for the line-item veto (Senate Roll Call Vote #115, 1995) and for a balanced budget amendment in 1995(Source: Senate Roll Call Vote #98, 1995). The Club for Growth also noted in its Presidential White Paper on Santorum that he was "was a leading author on the bill that completely overhauled the country's welfare system." (Source: Club for Growth Presidential White Paper #4: Rick Santorum, However, on balance, Santorum’s record in congress is generally one of favoring bigger government and more spending – not atypical during the Bush years where Santorum served in Senate leadership. (See the Club for Growth’s first fact-check on Santorum, earmarks, and the “Bridge to Nowhere” for more information on Santorum's spending record during the Bush era.) That Santorum might be better relative to other members of Congress is irrelevant: the claim about him is an absolute statement. 

It’s impossible to say that Santorum is 100% a “big government conservative” because he did vote for many things that limited government, but it is certainly clear that Santorum’s record reveals a Member of Congress who stood on the side of big government  on several major issues more than he did on the side of fiscal conservatism and economic freedom. We rate Paul’s claim that Santorum is a “big-government” conservative "Mostly True." 

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