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Inquirer Editorial: Sestak puts good ideas first

From health care to Social Security to bank bailouts, the candidates for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat are polar opposites.

From health care to Social Security to bank bailouts, the candidates for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat are polar opposites.

The campaigns of Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Sestak reflect the nationwide purge of moderates from both parties. But Toomey, who served in the House from 1999-2005, has played a more prominent role in this counterproductive trend.

As the former head of the antitax Club for Growth in Washington, Toomey helped to defeat fellow Republicans who cooperated with Democrats too often.

One targeted lawmaker was Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania's longest-serving senator who switched parties rather than face Toomey in the GOP primary. Specter was then beaten in the Democratic primary by Sestak, the candidate to his left.

Toomey, having done his part for party purity, now asks independent voters to believe he can be bipartisan in Washington.

The chances for that seem remote, at best.

Sestak, 58, the two-term congressman representing most of Delaware County, is a retired admiral. He believes government still has an important role to play in improving people's lives. That's one reason why he supported the health-care reform law. And it's one reason why The Inquirer endorses JOE SESTAK.

His 31 years of Navy service give Sestak a unique perspective when fewer and fewer members of Congress are veterans. He also was director of defense policy in the Clinton White House. Widespread budget cuts will be needed in the years ahead. Sestak understands more than most lawmakers where to find waste in the Defense Department.

Like most of his Democratic colleagues, Sestak would raise income taxes only on families earning more than $250,000 per year and extend tax cuts for all others. Toomey, an ardent tax-cutter during his six years in the House, would make tax cuts permanent even for the super-rich. That would add far more to deficits than the Democratic plan.

Toomey, 48, was once a currency trader on Wall Street and later owned a restaurant in Allentown. He has a grasp of economic issues, and advocates less government across the board. But Toomey would unnecessarily repeal the health-care law in favor of solutions such as deducting the cost of health insurance premiums, something he acknowledges "won't have much of an impact" on people who can't afford health insurance.

In a Sestak campaign ad, Toomey says that his voting record in the House was "indistinguishable" from that of conservative former Sen. Rick Santorum. Actually, Toomey was being modest. His voting record was even more conservative than Santorum's, whose far-right views were rejected by voters in a landslide in 2006. Toomey's personality may not be as abrasive as Santorum's, but his votes would rub a majority of Pennsylvanians the wrong way.

Sestak has moderate, reasonable ideas for promoting clean energy and providing small businesses with incentives to create more jobs. In the Senate, Sestak's views would be much more in line with most Pennsylvanians.